(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Reading at risk : a survey of literary reading in America : executive summary"

National Endowment for the Arts 



-.. 




> 



HP 




L- 



!■ 






'.r3rr — — 




1£ |P> 


LJN 


tflrfri ^^ 


it, 




If' K^HIl 


H 1 ___ ^B 
■ 1 El 




y ■ 

5 


•1 tt 


ti 




■ii 


■ Ml 




. _ h 







,'ivJli 



' iftV 



- 




«■" 







d! 



Reading At Risk 

A Survey of Literary Reading in America 



Executive 
Summary 



Preface 




I 



eading at Risk is not a report that the National 
Endowment for the Arts is happy to issue. This 
comprehensive survey of American literary reading 
presents a detailed assessment for the decline of reading's 
role in the nation's culture. For the first time in modern 
history, less than half the adult population now reads 
literature. Anyone who loves literature or values the 
cultural, intellectual, and political importance of active and 
engaged literacy in American society will respond to this 
report with grave concern. 

Reading at Risk is not a collection of anecdotes, theories, or 
opinions. It is a descriptive survey of national trends in adult 
literary reading covering most major demographic groups — 
providing statistical measurements by age, gender, education, 
income, region, race, and ethnicity. The report can be sum- 
marized in a single sentence: literary reading in America is 
not only declining among all groups, but the rate of decline 
has accelerated, especially among the young. 



Reading a book requires a degree of active attention and 
engagement. Indeed, reading itself is a progressive skill that 
depends on years of education and practice. By contrast, 
most electronic media such as television, recordings, and 
radio make fewer demands on their audiences, and often 
require no more than passive participation. Even interactive 



electronic media, such as video games and the Internet, 
foster shorter attention spans and accelerated gratification. 
To lose such intellectual capabilities — and the many sorts 
of human continuity it allows — would constitute a vast 
cultural impoverishment. 

More than reading is at stake. As this report demonstrates, 
readers play a more active and involved role in their 
communities. The decline in reading, therefore, parallels a 
larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life. 

What is to be done? There is surely no single solution to 
the present dilemma, just as there is no single cause. Each 
concerned group — writers, teachers, publishers, journalists, 
librarians, and legislators — will legitimately view the 
situation from a different perspective, and each will offer 
its own recommendations. The important thing now is 
to understand that America can no longer take active and 
engaged literacy for granted. 



Dana Gioia, Chairman 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Executive Summary 

Heading at Risk presents the results 
from the literature segment of a 
large-scale survey, the Survey of Public 
Participation in the Arts, conducted by the 
Census Bureau in 2002 at the request of the 
National Endowment for the Arts. This 
survey investigated the percentage and 
number of adults, age 18 and over, who 
attended artistic performances, visited 
museums, watched broadcasts of arts pro- 
grams, or read literature. The survey sample 
numbered more than 17,000 individuals, 
which makes it one of the most comprehen- 
sive polls of art and literature consumption 
ever conducted. 

Reading at Risk extrapolates and 
interprets data on literary reading and 
compares them with results from similar 
surveys carried out in 1982 and 1992. 
The survey asked respondents if, during the 
previous twelve months, they had read any 
novels, short stories, plays, or poetry in their 
leisure time (not for work or school). The 
report establishes trends in the number of 
adults reading, listening to, and writing 
literature by demographic categories of age, 
race, region, income, and education. This 
report also compares participation in literary 
activities with other leisure activities, such 
as watching movies and exercising. 

Reading at Risk provides an invaluable 
snapshot of the role of literature in the lives 
of Americans. It comes at a critical time, 
when electronic media are becoming the 
dominant influence in young people's 
worlds. Reading at Risk adds new and 
distressing information to the discussion. 
It contains solid evidence of the declining 
importance of literature to our populace. 
Literature reading is fading as a meaningful 
activity, especially among younger people. 
If one believes that active and engaged 
readers lead richer intellectual lives than 
non-readers and that a well-read citizenry is 
essential to a vibrant democracy, the decline 
of literary reading calls for serious action. 



1 Key Findings 



Decline in Literary Reading 






1982 


1992 


2002 


% of U.S. Adult Population Reading Literature 


56.9 


54.0 


46.7 


Number of Literary Readers (in millions) 


96 


100 


96 





1 . The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has 
dropped dramatically over the past 20 years. 

■ Less than half of the adult American population 
now reads literature. 

■ The 10 percentage point decline in literary 
reading represents a loss of 20 million potential 
readers. 

■ Only the strong growth in overall U.S. popula- 
tion of nearly 40 million adults from 1982 to 
2002 allowed the actual number of readers to 
remain flat at 96 million. 



1 

Trends in Book and Literary Reading 




Percentage of U.S. Adult Population 
1992 2002 


Change. 1992 to 2002 
Percentage Point (pp) 

Difference Rate of Decline 


Read Any Book 60.9 56.6 


-4.3 pp -7% 


Read Literature 54.0 46.7 


-7.3 pp -14% 





L. The decline in literary reading parallels a decline in total 
book reading. 

■ Total book reading is declining significantly, 
although not at the rate of literary reading. 

■ The percentage of the U.S. adult population 
reading any books has declined by -7 percent 
over the past decade. 



Rates of Decline in Literary Reading 






1982 


1992 2002 


% of U.S. Adult Population 


56.9 


54.0 


46.7 


Percentage Point (pp) Decline 


— 


-2.9 pp -7.3 pp 


Rate of Decline 


- 


-5% 


4% 





u. The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating. 

■ The ten-year rate of decline has accelerated from 
-5 percent to -14 percent since 1992. 



What is literary reading? 

The reading of novels, short 
stories, poetry, or drama in 
any print format, including 
the Internet. Any type 
was admitted, from romance 
novels to classical poetry. 



Literary Reading by Gender 





Percentage by Group 
1982 1992 2002 


Percentage Point (pp) Change 
1992-2002 1982-2002 


Men 


49.1 47.4 37.6 


-9.8 pp -11.5 pp 


Women 


63.0 60.3 55.1 


-5.2 pp -7.9 pp 





4. Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading 
by both groups is declining at significant rates. 

■ Only slightly more than one-third of adult American 
males now read literature. 

■ Reading among women is also declining 
significantly, but at a slower rate. 



Literary Reading by Race/Ethnicity 



Percentage by Group 
1982 1992 2002 



Percentage Point (pp) Change 
1992-2002 1982-2002 



White 


59.8 


58.0 


51.4 


-6.6 pp 


-8.4 pp 


African American 


42.3 


45.6 


37.1 


-8.5 pp 


-5.2 pp 


Hispanic 


36.4 


34.0 


26.5 


-7.5 pp 


-9.9 pp 


Other 


50.2 


42.7 


43.7 


+1.0 pp 


-6.5 pp 



u. Literary reading is declining among whites, African Americans, 
and Hispanics. 



r 

Literary Reading by Educati 


on 




1 










Percentage by Group 
1982 1992 2002 


Percentage Point (pp) Change 
1992-2002 1982-2002 


Grade School 21.2 


17.3 


14.0 


-3.3 pp 


-7.2 pp 


Some High School 38.8 


34.5 


23.3 


-11.1 pp 


-15.4 pp 


High School Graduate 54.2 


49.0 


37.7 


-11.3 pp 


-16.5 pp 


Some College 72.9 


65.0 


52.9 


-12.1 pp 


-20.0 pp 


College Graduate/ 82.1 
Graduate School 


74.6 


66.7 


-7.9 pp 


-15.4 pp 





6. Literary reading is declining among all education levels. 

■ The higher the education level, the higher the 
reading rate, but reading among every group has 
declined over the past 20 years. 



Why not make distinctions for 
quality of literature, and why not 
include literary nonfiction such 
as memoirs? 

Because a large population survey 
such as Reading at Risk cant 
distinguish too many subgenres or 
levels of quality and still keep the 
responses reliable and distinct. 



Literary Reading by Young Adults 


7. 


Age Group 


Percentage of Group 
1982 1992 2002 


Rate of Decline 
1982-2002 


18-24 


59.8 53.3 42.8 


-28% 


25-34 


62.1 54.6 47.7 


-23 


All Ages 


56.9 54.0 46.7 


-18 





reading is declining among all age groups. 



0. The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest 
age groups. 

■ Over the past 20 years, young adults (18-34) have declined 
from being those most likely to read literature to those least 
likely (with the exception of those age 65 and above). 

■ The rate of decline for the youngest adults ( 1 8-24) 

is 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population 
(-28 percent vs. -18 percent). 



Literary Reading by Age 






Percentage by Group 
1982 1992 2002 


Percentage Point (pp) Change 
1992-2002 1982-2002 


18-24 


59.8 


53.3 


42.8 


-10.5 pp 


-17.0 pp 


25-34 


62.1 


54.6 


47.7 


-6.9 pp 


-14.4 pp 


35-44 


59.7 


58.9 


46.6 


-12.3 pp 


-13.1 pp 


45-54 


54.9 


56.9 


51.6 


-5.3 pp 


-3.3 pp 


55-64 


52.8 


52.9 


48.9 


-4.0 pp 


-3.9 pp 


65-74 


47.2 


50.8 


45.3 


-5.5 pp 


-1.9 pp 


75 8 Older 


40.9 


40.4 


36.7 


-3.7 pp 


-4.2 pp 





Participation in Cultural and Social Activities 




Perform Volunteer and Charity Work 


Percentage of U.S. Adult Population 

Literary Readers Non-Literary Readers 

43.0 17.0 


Visit Art Museums 


44.0 12.0 


Attend Performing Arts Events 


49.0 17.0 


Attend Sporting Events 


45.0 27.0 



o . The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural 
and civic participation. 

■ Literary reading strongly correlates to other forms of 
active civic participation. 

■ Literary readers are more likely than non-literary 
readers to perform volunteer and charity work, visit 
art museums, attend performing arts events, and 
attend sporting events. 



1 U. The decline in reading correlates with increased 
participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet 
video games, and portable digital devices. 

■ Literature now competes with an enormous array 
of electronic media. While no single activity is 
responsible for the decline of reading, the 
cumulative presence and availability of these 
alternatives have increasingly drawn Americans away 
from reading. 

■ Non-readers watch more television than do readers. 

■ In 1990, book buying constituted 5.7 percent of total 
recreation spending, while spending on audio, video, 
computers, and software was 6 percent. By 2002, 
electronic spending had soared to 24 percent, while 
spending on books declined slightly to 5.6 percent. 

■ A 1999 study showed that the average American child 
lives in a household with 2.9 televisions, 1.8 VCRs, 
3.1 radios, 2.1 CD players, 1.4 video game players, 
and 1 computer. 



Reading at Risk presents a distressing 
but objective overview of national trends. 
The accelerating declines in literary 
reading among all demographic groups 
of American adults indicate an imminent 
cultural crisis. 

The trends among younger adults 
warrant special concern, suggesting 
that — unless some effective solution is 
found — literary culture, and literacy in 
general, will continue to worsen. Indeed, 
at the current rate of loss, literary reading 
as a leisure activity will virtually disappear 
in half a century. 

Reading at Risk is testimony that a 
cultural legacy is disappearing, especially 
among younger people. Twenty years 
ago, just after the NEA 1982 survey, the 
landmark study A Nation at Risk warned 
that "a rising tide of mediocrity" had 
overtaken the school system and threatened 
a generation of students. The report 
sparked a massive reform effort whose 
consequences are still evolving today. 
Reading at Risk reveals an equally dire 
situation, a culture at risk. 

The National Endowment for the Arts 
calls upon public agencies, cultural 
organizations, the press, and educators to 
take stock of the sliding literary condition 
of our country. It is time to inspire a 
nationwide renaissance of literary reading 
and bring the transformative power of 
literature into the lives of all citizens. 



A Great Nation Deserves Great Art. 



*» 




NATIONAL 
ENDOWMENT 
FOR THE ARTS 

1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 

Washington, D.C. 20506-0001 

202-682-5400 

www.arts.gov 

A PDF of the entire Reading at Risk publication can be downloaded at 
http://www.arts.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf 

Cover photo: ©Dennis Marsico/CORBIS