Can this be true?

Leisure reading in the US has fallen 30% since 2004, it says here.

Associated statistics:

Numbers from the National Endowment for the Arts show that the share of adults reading at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the prior year fell from 57 percent in 1982 to 43 percent in 2015.

Survey data from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have shown, meanwhile, that the share of adults not reading any book in a given year nearly tripled between 1978 and 2014.


This article suggests that the steepest declines occurred prior to Facebook and pins the blame primarily on television. This seems iffy to me. Why would a decline due to television not have leveled out waaaaay before 2004? A new decline — of 30%! — since 2004 suggests to me that television is not the culprit, even though sure, Netflix and stuff.

One thing I’d like to see is the methodology. I suspect if you count unforced reading of nonfiction as “leisure reading” and then counted reading online opinion columns as this kind of leisure reading, you might not see any decline at all from 2004 to 2017. I kind of suspect that the authors of this survey defined “leisure reading” in a way that let them get a steep gosh-wow decline in order — ironically — to drive clicks to their article.

I hope I’m not just being, let’s say, optimistically cynical in that suspicion.

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2 thoughts on “Can this be true?”

  1. If this is the same thing Passive Voice blogged about, someone in comments poked at the method and decided it’s worthless. Computer assisted telephone survey – I’m suprised they got any answers, if so.

  2. Yep, same one. I didn’t read his comments, but I see several people making the same comment I did — How are you defining “leisure reading?” If you define that term just right, or just wrong, you can produce as steep a decline in “leisure reading” as suits you.

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