What Kinds Of People Aren't Reading Books? This Survey Has Some Answers

A woman reads inside the library on November 16, 2016 in Paris inside the Palais du Luxembourg which houses the French Senate. / AFP / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that over 26% of American adults haven't read a book at all — not even a portion of it — in any format, whether print, electronic, or audio, in the past year. For some, the idea of not reading a book for an entire year is mind-blowing. However, rather than judging these people, the survey sheds light on what kind of people aren't reading.

The information from the survey, which, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt, reveals that many characteristics of a person lend itself to the likelihood that they will or won't read. Many of these traits are things are impossible to change, while others are difficult to change depending on one's circumstances. These are things like race and age, as well as education and income level.

One piece of data that stands out is that Hispanic people are about twice as likely as white people to be non-book readers (40% to 23%). The number is shocking, in some ways, but hardly so when you look at the numbers of texts available that are either written by or about Hispanic people, for youth or adults. Regardless of reasons, however, the number boldly stands.

Another piece of data that sticks out from the rest is that men are more likely than women (31% to 21%) to identify as non-readers. It's funny, or perhaps better bewildering, given that men dominate the books industry in both authorship and representation. One could suggest that women are more likely to read a book written by a man about a man or a book by a woman about a man than a man is to do the same except in reverse. That's a topic for another time, though.

Some characteristics showed stark differences while some showed little contrast. For example, age did not prove to be a powerful indicator of whether or not a person would identify as a non-reader. People 50 or older were only 6% more likely to identify as non-readers than people aged between 18 to 49. 

Similarly, black people were only 6% more likely to identify as non-readers than white people, and people with some college education were also only 6% more likely to identify as non-readers than people who graduated college. Apparently, 6% is the magic number.

This data should not be taken at face value. Rather, it should be analyzed with an intersectional lens that looks at the numbers with an understanding of society. We can't just accept that certain people are less likely to read, or else we risk deepening educational and cultural gaps. The problem isn't necessarily with people, nor is it exclusively books. The problems are bigger and more complicated and should be treated as such.

Images: Getty Images, Pew Research Center

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