More American Adults Read Literature According To New NEA Study

Earth with SunburstImage via WikipediaGood News! Read this: More American Adults Read Literature According To New NEA Study

The survey, carried out by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), a public agency created in 1965, is solid: it covered a big sample (18,000 adults) and was done in partnership with the US Census Bureau.

The NEA Chairman talks of a "dramatic turnaround". And so it is!


This marks a SEA CHANGE in American reading habits in the last 25 years! Every previous survey (in 1982-92 and 1992-2002) had turned up declines in reading rates!

It reports that in 2008 there were 16.6 million new readers of literature (novels, short stories, plays and poems), and most of them young adults, of which the largest group is between the age of 18 and 24, and it's also the one most rapidly increasing: 21%!


Wow! That's mind boggling! It's not old people retiring who are reading more, no,  it's YOUNG PEOPLE! That's truly promising! It means our literary future is not going to be bare, the written word in this Internet Age is not going to disappear!

To understand what happened you need to look at social and economic changes, in addition of course to the NEA's own activities to promote reading (among them, a quite respectable push to attract American attention on Shakespeare, reaching some 21 million people). Let's remember that the economy was booming along  until 2007/2008 - presumably lifting upwards the lower middle classes. Therefore, and not unsurprisingly,  the sharpest overall increase in reading rate was among Hispanic Americans (+20%) followed by African Americans (+15%).

In terms of literary preferences, fiction continued to win (novels, short stories) while poetry continued to decline. Guess poetry is not well adapted to 21st century tastes!

The other interesting aspect is that in 2008, already 15% of adults read their fiction online - yet that was the year just before the Kindle and e-reader explosion! So the digital revolution (I mean ebooks) hadn't really impacted yet the results of this survey - it was just starting.

Wonder what American reading habits look like now, considering that Amazon sells more ebooks than printed books, and the rate of increase of ebooks is reportedly some 21% a year.

In terms of absolute size, the American market is simply huge (it's half the total population): some 119 millions read books in any format, of which 113 million read fiction!

Take heart newbies and aspiring writers! The future is bright!



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