Roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted Jan. 25-Feb. 8, 2021. Who are these non-book readers?
Several demographic traits are linked with not reading books, according to the survey. For instance, adults with a high school diploma or less are far more likely than those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree to report not reading books in any format in the past year (39% vs. 11%). Adults with lower levels of educational attainment are also among the least likely to own smartphones, an increasingly common way for adults to read e-books.
Pew Research Center has studied how Americans read books for years. For this analysis, we surveyed 1,502 U.S. adults from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, 2021, by cellphone and landline phone. The survey was conducted by interviewers under the direction of Abt Associates and is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, education and other categories. Here are the questions, responses and methodology used for this analysis.
In addition, adults whose annual household income is less than $30,000 are more likely than those living in households earning $75,000 or more a year to be non-book readers (31% vs. 15%). Hispanic adults (38%) are more likely than Black (25%) or White adults (20%) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months. (The survey included Asian Americans but did not have sufficient sample size to do statistical analysis of this group.)
Although the differences are less pronounced, non-book readers also vary by age and community type. Americans ages 50 and older, for example, are more likely than their younger counterparts to be non-book readers. There is not a statistically significant difference by gender.
The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months has fluctuated over the years the Center has studied it. The 23% of adults who currently say they have not read any books in the past year is identical to the share who said this in 2014.
The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. In a 2016 survey, the Center found that Hispanic adults, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000 and those who have a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school were among the most likely to report in that survey they had never been to a public library.
CORRECTION (Nov. 1, 2021): Figures shown in the topline for December 2011, November 2012, April 2015 and April 2016 incorrectly included 16- and 17-year-olds. The figures have been updated to only include adults 18 and older. None of the study findings or conclusions are affected.
Note: Here are the questions, responses and methodology used for this analysis. This is an update of a post by Andrew Perrin originally published Nov. 23, 2016.