About Half of Americans Reading a Book

by David W. Moore

Most say Internet has not affected their reading habits

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- About one in every two Americans is engrossed in some type of book, according to Gallup's latest measure of the public's reading habits. About half of Americans also say they have read more than five books in the past year, not much different from the number reported a decade and a half ago. There is no widespread pattern as to how people select their books -- some choose by the author, others based on recommendations from their friends, and still others by browsing in a bookstore or library.

The poll, conducted May 20-22, finds 47% of adults saying they are presently reading a book, up from 37% who reported that in 1990, and 23% in 1957.

Do you happen to be reading any books or novels at present?

Yes

%

2005 May 20-22

47

1990 Dec 13-16

37

1957 Mar 15-20

23

1954 Nov 11-16

22

1952 Oct 5-10

18

1949 Dec 2-7

21

1949 Nov 27-Dec 2

21

1949 Jan 22-27

21

The poll also shows that 83% of Americans say they have started to read at least 1 book sometime in the past year, including 31% who say they have read more than 10 books, and 6% who have read more than 50.

During the past year, about how many books, either hardcover or paperback, did you read either all or part of the way through?

None

1-5

6-10

11-50

51 +

No
answer

Mean
(w/ zero)

Median

%

%

%

%

%

%

2005 May 20-22

16

38

14

25

6

1

14.2

5

2002 Dec 5-8

18

31

15

27

8

1

15.8

6

2001 Dec 6-9 ^

13

38

16

23

8

1

14.5

5

1999 Sep 10-14

13

30

16

31

7

2

17

7

1999 Jul 13-14

12

24

18

34

10

3

20

10

1990 Dec 13-16

16

32

15

27

7

3

11

6

1978 Jul 21-Aug 14

8

29

17

29

13

4

--

--

^Asked of a half sample

The median number of books read is five -- about half of Americans have read more than that, and half have read fewer than that, including 16% who say they did not even start a book last year.

Who is reading books? Women more than men, people aged 30 and older more than people aged 18 to 29, the higher educated more than the less educated, people who closely follow other news events, and frequent rather than infrequent moviegoers.

Reading a Book?

Yes

%

Overall

47

Gender

Male

42

Female

53

Age

18-29

40

30-49

47

50-64

51

65+

47

Education

High school or less

33

Some college

46

College grad

63

Postgraduate

74

How closely follow filibuster

Very

64

Somewhat

55

Not close

39

How frequently attend movies

High frequency

62

Moderate frequency

49

Not at all

33

Movie attendance vs. five years ago

More often

56

Same

47

Less often

44

  • The gender gap is in the double digits -- 53% of women vs. 42% of men are currently reading a book, an 11-point difference.

  • Among people in the three older age groups, the percentages reading a book are similar (47% to 51%), but significantly higher than the percentage among people younger than 30 (40%).
  • It's no surprise that education correlates highly with reading a book, going from 33% among Americans with a high school education or less to 74% among Americans with at least some postgraduate experience.

  • People following current events are also more likely to read books. The poll included questions on the U.S. Senate filibuster and on stem cell research. The more people were paying attention to either issue, the more likely they were also to be reading a book. For example, among people who were following the controversy over the U.S. Senate filibuster "very closely," 64% were reading a book, compared with 55% among people following the controversy "somewhat closely" and just 39% among people not following the issue closely. The same pattern was also evident by how closely people were following the issue of stem cell research.
  • Movie attendance does not appear to depress book reading. The more movies people attend, the more likely they are to be reading books -- from 33% who didn't attend a movie last year, to 49% among people who attended a few movies, to 62% who attended several movies.

  • Also, among people who say they are attending movies more often than they did five years ago, 56% are presently reading a book, compared with 47% among people attending the same number of movies as in the past, and 44% among people attending movies less often.

There is no single way that best describes how Americans select the books they read. Thirty percent of adults who read a book in the last year do so based on an author they like, 27% on a recommendation from someone they know, and 22% by browsing at a bookstore or library.

Which of the following is the main way you generally select the books you read -- [ROTATED: based on a recommendation from someone you know, by choosing an author whose books you like, based on book reviews you've read, by browsing a bookstore or library, based on an advertisement you've seen, by browsing an Internet site] -- or do you select them another way?

BASED ON 855 ADULTS WHO READ AT LEAST ONE BOOK IN THE PAST YEAR

2005 May 20-22

1999 Sep 10-14

%

%

By choosing an author whose books you like

30

26

Based on a recommendation from someone you know

27

27

By browsing a bookstore or library

22

26

Based on book reviews you've read

7

6

By subject (vol.)

6

2

By browsing an Internet site

3

1

Based on an advertisement you've seen

2

3

Other

2

7

No opinion

1

1

Few people choose a book based on book reviews (7%) or by browsing an Internet site (3%), and only 2% say they were influenced to read a book by an advertisement.

Most people, 73%, say the Internet has not affected their reading habits, but 16% say that because they spend more of their free time on the Internet, they are reading fewer books. Just 6% say that the Internet has influenced them to read more, by making it easier to find out about, and purchase, books.

Which best describes the effect that the Internet has had on the amount of time that you, personally, spend reading books -- [ROTATED: you are reading more books now because it is easy to buy books on the Internet and to find out about the books you want to read, the Internet has not affected the amount of time you spend reading books, or you are reading fewer books because you are spending more of your free time on the Internet instead of reading books]?

Reading more
books

Not
affected

Reading fewer
books

No
opinion

2005 May 20-22

6%

73

16

5

Survey Methods

Results in the current survey are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 20-22, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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