Over 50% of Adults Have Not Finished a Book in the Last Year

While many book lovers would struggle not to finish a book in 365 days, that’s the reality for more than half of American adults. In a new study by WordsRated, an international research and data group focused on reading and publishing, 48% of adults have finished an entire book in the past year.

The American Reading Habits Survey asked 2,003 American adults about their reading habits over the past year. This study was done as a way to offer a different perspective on reading than is typically offered by groups like PEW. Rather than defining reading as a broad range of activities, WordsRated had two criteria: the book must be printed or digital (aka: no audiobooks, despite the fact that audiobooks are actually read) and the book must have been fully completed.

As noted above, respondents included approximately 30% of baby boomers, 25% of Gen X, 34% of Gen Y, and 11% of Gen Z. The three largest groups of adults were about equal.

Who has read a book in the past 12 months?

Graph showing the distribution of who has completed a book in the past year.

While it’s certainly surprising that nearly 52% of respondents haven’t finished a book in the past year, that 48% figure is still quite impressive. Finishing a book as the definition of reading here definitely gives a whole different perspective – how many of that 52% include people picking up a magazine or flipping through a cookbook or trying something and putting it away? How many listen exclusively to audiobooks? Likewise, over the past year, the world has continued to see a global pandemic, continued racism and homo/transmission, war, and more.

The data also shows that a quarter of the same adults haven’t read a full book in 1-2 years, while an additional 11% haven’t read a book in 3-5 years.

A tenth of adults have not read a complete book in the last 10 years.

Habits of reading quantity

If 1 in 10 adults haven’t read a book in the last ten years, what about the other way around? How many books are those that finish at least one reading?

The good news is that readers who finish one book are 29 times more likely to read two or more full books per year.

Graph of the number of books completed in the last 12 months.

The graph above not only shows that those who read a complete book are more likely to continue reading, but it also highlights something else: it is more common to start but not finish a book than to never read. a book. In fact, only 23% of adults surveyed never read – and again, that means a physical or electronic book, not another format. It’s pretty good new!

Who reads the most?

This particular study suggests that older generations read more than younger generations. The findings here align with what previous studies have noted that young people are much more likely to consume audiobooks than print media. By defining reading so narrowly, data also narrowly defines the habits of generations.

table of generational distributions of reading habits.

Baby boomers read the most books each year, with nearly 10 books completed each year. Gen X reads about 6 a year, while Gen Y reads about 4 and Gen Z also reads about four. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that people in the demographic group where retirement is an option have more time for leisure reading, while groups like those in their prime working or early workers don’t spend the same amount of time reading books (they listen to audiobooks while commuting or feeding their children or walking around or trying to do anything while juggling several other responsibilities).

Millennials report starting — but not finishing — the books at a rate doubled by baby boomers. Or maybe Millennials recognize their limited time and don’t choose to spend it reading a book they don’t like.

Generational differences in the amount of books read

It’s possible baby boomers read a lot of books, not just because of time, but also because they don’t use DNF and don’t consume as many audiobooks.

generational differences in numbers of books started but never finished

The number of non-readers declines over generations, suggesting that those who start a reading habit at a younger age maintain it as they age. While it’s always possible to start a new habit, those who develop a love for reading young are more likely to continue as they get older.

years since reading a graphic book

What does it mean?

WordsRated research is interesting for several reasons. Not only does he limit his definition of reading in favor of older generations, which we know from previous research, but he also shows a difference in How? ‘Or’ What different generations read. Young readers are much more willing to leave a book they don’t like or don’t like than older readers. While many might say it’s evidence of a lack of attention, it’s not: it’s worth over time and energy.

At a time when younger generations are saddled with untold debt after taking the advice of their parents, they are now choosing to spend their little chunks of free time invested in hobbies and activities that fill their cup entirely. The younger generations are also the ones who don’t have as much free time, which means the time to read an entire print/e-book is complicated by tasks off the plates of most baby boomers like parenting. children. Younger generations are also much more diverse, and these marginalized populations lack free time at higher rates than their middle-class white peers.

Additionally, we know that audiobooks are popular with young readers and that young readers also use their public libraries.

This research offers another set of interesting questions, including what do different generations read? This does not mean that some books are better or worse, valid or less valid than others. But chances are younger generations are still reading for education, as opposed to leisure, and the time investment is different.

The definition of reading has changed, and so has the way generations interact with words. It’s okay to quit one book, it’s okay to start multiple books and never finish them, and it’s okay to get all your reading via audiobooks.

Half the people finished an entire book in the last year, and frankly, that’s something to celebrate.

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