Humanities Indicators
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Time Spent Reading
(Updated August 2019)

Reading is a foundational activity for the humanities, but recent years have seen a downward trend in the amount of reading Americans do in their leisure time. The share of American adults who read at least one book for pleasure in the previous year has declined. As described here, the average amount of time American adults spend reading for personal interest has also fallen, with decline evident among Americans of virtually every age and amount of education.

Findings and Trends

  • From 2003 to 2018, the average amount of time Americans spent reading for personal interest per day fell by six minutes, to less than 16 minutes per day (Indicator V-16a). In comparison, Americans spent an average of two hours and 50 minutes each day watching television, and 28 minutes playing games and using computers for leisure in 2018. The time spent on each of the latter activities increased from 2003 to 2018.
  • Higher levels of education are associated with more time spent reading for personal interest (Indicator V-16b). From 2010 to 2018, the average amount of time American adults with a graduate or professional degree spent reading was more than three times as great as for those who had not earned a high school diploma (28 minutes compared to eight in 2018).
  • The average time American adults spent reading for personal interest declined at every education level from 2003 to 2018. The largest absolute decline occurred among those with advanced degrees, with the average falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 28 minutes in 2018. The largest proportional decline occurred among Americans with less than a high school education, where the average time spent reading fell by more than half, from 18 minutes per day to eight.
  • Older Americans were consistently more likely to read for personal interest than their younger counterparts over the 2003–2018 time period (Indicator V-16c). For example, in 2018, Americans 65 and older spent more than 36 minutes per day reading for personal interest, on average. In comparison, the five youngest cohorts (ages 15 to 54), spent, on average, less than 10 minutes per day reading. The average time spent reading declined in every age cohort except the two youngest—15-to-19-year-olds and 20-to-24-year-olds—from 2003 to 2018. (For the older of these two groups, the values for the two time periods were not identical, but the observed difference was not statistically significant at the 5% level.)
V-16a: Average Minutes per Day Americans Age 15 Years and Older Engaged in Selected Leisure Activities, 2003–2018
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey. Annual estimates obtained via retrieval tool at https://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11a.htm. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indV-16a.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16a.pptx../cmsData/pdf/V-16a.pdf
V-16b: Average Minutes per Day Americans Age 25 Years and Older Spent Reading for Personal Interest, by Educational Attainment, 2003–2018
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey. Annual estimates obtained via retrieval tool at https://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11a.htm. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indV-16b.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16b.pptx../cmsData/pdf/V-16b.pdf
V-16c: Average Minutes per Day Spent Reading for Personal Interest, by Age, 2003–2018
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey. Annual estimates obtained via retrieval tool at https://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11a.htm. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indV-16c.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16c.pptx../cmsData/pdf/V-16c.pdf