American Adults Reading More Literature
For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. For the first time in the history of the survey, which has been conducted five times since 1982, the overall rate at which adults read literature—including novels, short stories, plays and poems—increased, rising seven percent since 2002.
"At a time of immense cultural pessimism, the NEA is pleased to announce some important good news. Literary reading has risen in the U.S. for the first time in a quarter century," says NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own Big Read, are working. Cultural decline is not inevitable."
Other key findings of the study, documented in the NEA brochure "Reading on the Rise," include:
• The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
• Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18- to 24-year-olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20-percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.
• For the first time in the survey's history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.
• Fiction (novels and short stories) accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers.
• Reading poetry and drama continues to decline, especially poetry-reading among women.
• Online readers also report reading books. Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.
• Nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.
"Reading on the Rise" is available for download at www.NEA.gov/research