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

Full text of "To read or not to read : a question of national consequence : executive summary"



- 

National Endowment for the Arts 










To Read or Not To Read 






A Question of National Consequence 






Executive Summary 







National Endowment for the Arts 



To Read or Not To Read 

A Question of National Consequence 



w 




Executive Summary 



Research Report #47 
Executive Summary 
November 2007 

^^#^M National Endowment for the Arts 
^J^^r 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 

Washington, DC 20506-0001 

Telephone: 202-682-5400 

Produced by the Office of Research & Analysis 

Sunil Iyengar, Director 

Staff contributors: Sarah Sullivan, Bonnie Nichols, Tom Bradshaw, 

and Kelli Rogowski 

Special contributor: Mark Bauerlein 

Editorial and publication assistance by Don Ball 

Designed by Beth Schlenoff Design 

Front Cover Photo: Getty Images 

Printed in the United States of America 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

To read or not to read : a question of national consequence, 
p. cm. — (Research report ; #47) 

"Produced by the Office of Research & Analysis, National 
Endowment for the Arts, Sunil Iyengar, director; editorial and 
publication assistance by Don Ball." 

1. Books and reading — United States. 2. 

Literature— Appreciation— United States. I. Iyengar, Sunil, 1973- 
II. Ball, Don, 1964- III. National Endowment for the Arts. 
Z1003.2.T6 2007 
028:9— dc22 

2007042469 



202-682-5496 Voice/TTY 

(a device for individuals who are deaf or hearing-impaired) 

Individuals who do not use conventional print materials 
may contact the Arts Endowment's Office for AccessAbility at 
202-682-5532 to obtain this publication in an alternate format. 

This publication is available free of charge at www.arts.gov, 
the Web site of the National Endowment for the Arts. 




Preface 



To Read or Not To Read gathers and collates the best national data available to 
provide a reliable and comprehensive overview of American reading today. 
While it incorporates some statistics from the National Endowment for the 
Arts' 2004 report, Reading at Risk, this new study contains vastly more data from 
numerous sources. Although most of this information is publicly available, it has 
never been assembled and analyzed as a whole. To our knowledge, To Read or Not 
To Read is the most complete and up-to-date report of the nation's reading trends 
and— perhaps most important— their considerable consequences. 

To Read or Not To Read relies on the most accurate data available, which consists 
of large, national studies conducted on a regular basis by U.S. federal agencies, sup- 
plemented by academic, foundation, and business surveys. Reliable national statisti- 
cal research is expensive and time-consuming to conduct, especially when it requires 
accurate measurements of various subgroups (age or education level, for example) 
within the overall population. Likewise, such research demands formidable resources 
and a commitment from an organization to collect the data consistently over many 
years, which is the only valid way to measure both short and long-term trends. Few 
organizations outside the federal government can manage such a painstaking task. 
By comparison, most private-sector or media surveys involve quick and isolated polls 
conducted with a minimal sample size. 

When one assembles data from disparate sources, the results often present con- 
tradictions. This is not the case with To Read or Not To Read. Here the results are 
startling in their consistency. All of the data combine to tell the same story about 
American reading. 

The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been 
measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, 
all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general 
decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading 
ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. 
These negative trends have more than literary importance: As this report makes clear, 
the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications. 

How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially younger 
Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower 
levels of academic achievement. (The shameful fact that nearly one-third of Ameri- 
can teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected to declining literacy and read- 
ing comprehension.) With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less 
well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, 
lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading 
skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient 
readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in vol- 
unteerism and voting. 

Strictly understood, the data in this report do not necessarily show cause and 
effect. The statistics merely indicate correlations. The habit of daily reading, for 
instance, overwhelmingly correlates with better reading skills and higher academic 





Photo by Vance Jacobs 



To Read or Not To Read 3 



achievement. On the other hand, poor reading skills correlate with lower levels of 
financial and job success. At the risk of being criticized by social scientists, I suggest 
that since all the data demonstrate consistent and mostly linear relationships between 
reading and these positive results — and between poor reading and negative results — 
reading has played a decisive factor. Whether or not people read, and indeed how 
much and how often they read, affects their lives in crucial ways. 

All of the data suggest how powerfully reading transforms the lives of individu- 
als — whatever their social circumstances. Regular reading not only boosts the likeli- 
hood of an individual's academic and economic success — facts that are not especially 
surprising — but it also seems to awaken a person's social and civic sense. Reading 
correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior 
surveyed. It is reassuring, though hardly amazing, that readers attend more concerts 
and theater than non-readers, but it is surprising that they exercise more and play 
more sports — no matter what their educational level. The cold statistics confirm 
something that most readers know but have mostly been reluctant to declare as fact — 
books change lives for the better. 

Some people will inevitably criticize To Read or Not To Read as a negative report — 
understating the good works of schools, colleges, libraries, and publishers. Certainly, 
the trends reported here are negative. There is, alas, no factual case to support gen- 
eral growth in reading or reading comprehension in America. But there is another 
way of viewing this data that is hardly negative about reading. 

To Read or Not To Read confirms — without any serious qualification — the central 
importance of reading for a prosperous, free society. The data here demonstrate that 
reading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well 
as healthy communities. Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they pro- 
vide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated 
and sustained by frequent reading. 

To Read or Not To Read is not an elegy for the bygone days of print culture, but 
instead is a call to action — not only for parents, teachers, librarians, writers, and pub- 
lishers, but also for politicians, business leaders, economists, and social activists. The 
general decline in reading is not merely a cultural issue, though it has enormous con- 
sequences for literature and the other arts. It is a serious national problem. If, at the 
current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will 
suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks. 

As with Reading at Risk, we issue this report not to dictate any specific remedial 
policies, but to initiate a serious discussion. It is no longer reasonable to debate 
whether the problem exists. It is now time to become more committed to solving it 
or face the consequences. The nation needs to focus more attention and resources 
on an activity both fundamental and irreplaceable for democracy. 



c$£u*x^'< 



Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 



4 To Read or Not To Read 



Executive Summary 



In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts published Reading at Risk: A Sur- 
vey of Literary Reading in America. This detailed study showed that Americans in 
almost every demographic group were reading fiction, poetry, and drama — and 
books in general — at significantly lower rates than 10 or 20 years earlier. The declines 
were steepest among young adults. 

More recent findings attest to the diminished role of voluntary reading in Ameri- 
can life. These new statistics come from a variety of reliable sources, including large, 
nationally representative studies conducted by other federal agencies. Brought 
together here for the first time, the data prompt three unsettling conclusions: 

• Americans are spending less time reading. 

• Reading comprehension skills are eroding. 

• These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications. 

A. Americans Are Reading Less 

Teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time when com- 
pared with other age groups and with Americans of the past. 

1. Young adults are reading fewer books in general. 

• Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure. 

• The percentage of 18- to 44-year-olds who read a book fell 7 points from 1992 

to 2002. 

Percentage of Young Americans Who Read a Book Not Required for Work or School 



Age group 


1992 


2002 


Change 


Rate of decline 


18-24 


59% 


52% 


-7pp 


-12% 


25-34 


64% 


59% 


-5pp 


-8% 


35-44 


66% 


59% 


-7pp 


-11% 


All adults (18 and over) 


61% 


57% 


-4pp 


-7% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: National Endowment for the Arts 

2. Reading is declining as an activity among teenagers. 

♦ Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers. 

♦ The percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has 

doubled over a 20-year period. Yet the amount they read for school or home- 
work (15 or fewer pages daily for 62% of students) has stayed the same. 



To Read or Not To Read 5 



Percentage of Students Reading for Fun 







Age 13 






Age 17 




Reading frequency 


1984 


2004 


Change 


1984 


2004 


Change 


Never or hardly ever read 
Read almost every day 


8% 
35% 


13% 
30% 


+5pp 
-5pp 


9% 
31% 


19% 
22% 


+10 pp 
-9pp 



pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



♦ Voluntary reading rates diminish from childhood to late adolescence. 



Percentage 


Who 


Read Almost Every Day for 

1984 


Fun 


1999 


2004 




9-year-olds 
13-year-olds 




53% 
35% 


54% 
28% 


54% 
30% 




17-year-olds 




31% T 




25% T 22% ' 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Percentage Who Read a Book the Previous Day (Outside School or Work) 



In 2004 



For at least 5 minutes 



For at least 30 minutes 



8- to 10-year-olds 
11- to 14-year-olds 
15- to 18-year-olds 



63% 
44% 
34% 



40% 
27% 
26% 



I 



Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds (#7251), 2005 

3. College attendance no longer guarantees active reading habits. 

♦ Although reading tracks closely with education level, the percentage of college 
graduates who read literature has declined. 

Percentage of Literary Readers Among College Graduates 



1982 


1992 


2002 


Change 
1982-2002 


Rate of decline 
1982-2002 


82% 


75% 


67% 


-15 pp 


-18% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: National Endowment for the Arts 



65% of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not 

at all. 
The percentage of non-readers among these students has nearly doubled— 

climbing 18 points since they graduated from high school. 



6 To Read or Not To Read 



♦ By the time they become college seniors, one in three students read nothing at 
all for pleasure in a given week. 

Percentage of U.S. College Freshmen Who Read Little or Nothing for Pleasure 




S 40% 



Reading per week: 
None 
Less than 1 hour 



10% 



As high school seniors As college freshmen 
in 2004 in 2005 



Source: University of California, Los Angeles, Higher Education Research Institute 



Percentage of U.S. College Seniors Who Read Little or Nothing for Pleasure 



70% r- 



ca 




S 40% - 



Reading per week: 
None 
Less than 1 hour 



10% 



As high school seniors As college seniors 

(mainly pre-2002) in 2005 



Source: University of California, Los Angeles, Higher Education Research Institute 

4. Teens and young adults spend less time reading than people of other age groups. 

♦ Americans between 15 and 34 years of age devote less leisure time than older 

age groups to reading anything at all. 

♦ 15- to 24-year-olds spend only 7-10 minutes per day on voluntary reading — 

about 60% less time than the average American. 



To Read or Not To Read 7 



♦ By contrast, 15- to 24-year-olds spend 2 to T-h hours per day watching TV. This 
activity consumes the most leisure time for men and women of all ages. 



Average Time Spent Reading in 2006 



Hours/minutes spent reading 



Weekdays 



Weekends 
and holidays 



Total, 15 years and over 


20 


26 


15 to 24 years 


07 


10 


25 to 34 years 


09 


11 


35 to 44 years 


12 


16 


45 to 54 years 


17 


24 


55 to 64 years 


30 


39 


65 years and over 


50 1 


07 



Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics 

♦ Literary reading declined significantly in a period of rising Internet use. From 
1997-2003, home Internet use soared 53 percentage points among 18- to 24- 
year-olds. By another estimate, the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds with a 
home broadband connection climbed 25 points from 2005 to 2007. 1 



Percentage of 18- to 24-Year-0lds Reading Literature 

1982 


1992 


2002 


Percentage reading literature 


60% 


53% 


43% 


Change from 1982 

Rate of decline from 1982 


# 
# 


-7pp 
-12% 


-17 pp 
-28% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: National Endowment for the Arts 



5. Even when reading does occur, it competes with other media. This multi- 
tasking suggests less focused engagement with a text. 

♦ 58% of middle and high school students use other media while reading. 

♦ Students report using media during 35% of their weekly reading time. 

♦ 20% of their reading time is shared by TV- watching, video/computer game- 

playing, instant messaging, e-mailing or Web surfing. 



! U.S. Census Bureau, Computer 
and Internet Use in the United 
States, 1997 and 2003, and 
Pew/Internet & American Life 
Project, Home Broadband 
Adoption 2007. 



Percentage Using Other Media While Reading 

7th-12th Graders in 2003-2004 



% who use other media while reading 



Most of the time 
Some of the time 
Most/some 

Little of the time 
Never 
Little/never 



28% 
30% 
58% 

26% 
16% 
42% 



Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Media Multitasking Among Youth: Prevalence, Predictors 
and Pairings (# 7592), 2006 



8 To Read or Not To Read 



■ ■ ■ 



1 

1 



-_>. 






HP 
ttfi 






ERRATA 

On page 9 of the Executive Summary for To Read or Not To Read, the first 
sentence of the second bullet under #6 should state: "Amid year-to-year 
fluctuations, consumer book sales peaked at 1.6 billion units sold in 2000." 




■ I 






■ 



■ 




IE H 



I ■ 







Percentage of Time Spent Reading While Using Other Media 

7th- to 12th-Graders in 2003-2004 



Percentage of reading time 



Reading while: 
Watching TV 
Listening to music 
Doing homework on the computer 
Playing videogames 
Playing computer games 
Using the computer (other) 
Instant messaging 
E-mailing 
Surfing websites 
Using any of the above media 



11% 
10% 
3% 
3% 
2% 
2% 
2% 
1% 
1% 
35% 



Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Media Multitasking Among Youth: Prevalence, Predictors 
and Pairings (# 7592), 2006 



6. American families are spending less on books than at almost any other time 
in the past two decades. 

♦ Although nominal spending on books grew from 1985 to 2005, average annual 
household spending on books dropped 14% when adjusted for inflation." 



Average Annual Spending on Books, by Consumer Unit 

Adjusted for Inflation 



$36 
$34 
$32 
$30 
$28 
$26 




1985 



1989 



1993 



1997 



2001 



2005 



The Consumer Price Index, 1982-1984 (less food and energy), was used to adjust for inflation. 
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics 



Over the same period, spending on reading materials dipped 7 percentage 

points as a share of average household entertainment spending. 
Amid year-to-year fluctuations, consumer book sales peaked at 1.6 million 

units sold in 2000. From 2000 to 2006, however, they declined by 6%, or 

100 million units. 1 " 
The number of books in a home is a significant predictor of academic 

achievement. 



11 For the purpose of this analysis, 
"family" or "household" is used 
instead of the Bureau of Labor 
Statistics' technical term "con- 
sumer unit." In addition to families 
and households, a consumer unit 
may describe "a person living 
alone or sharing a household with 
others or living as a roomer in a 
private home or lodging house or 
in permanent living quarters in a 
hotel or motel, but who is finan- 
cially independent." 

"' Albert N. Greco and Robert M. 
Wharton, Book Industry TRENDS 
2007 (New York, N.Y.: Book 
Industry Study Group, 2007), 
various pages. 



To Read or Not To Read 9 



Average Test Scores by Number of Household Books, Grade 12 (2005-2006) 





Average 
science score 


Average 
civics score 




Average 
history score 


* 


Reported number of 
books at home 






More than 100 


161 




167 




305 




26-100 


147 




150 




289 




11-25 


132 




134 




275 




0-10 


122 w 


123 u 


265 w 



* Science and civics scores range from to 300. History scores range from to 500. 
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



B. Americans Are Reading Less Well 

As Americans read less, their reading skills worsen, especially among teenagers and 
young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved. 

1. Reading scores for 17-year-olds are down. 

♦ 17-year-old average reading scores began a slow downward trend in 1992. 

♦ For more than 30 years, this age group has failed to sustain improvements in 

reading scores. 

♦ Reading test scores for 9-year-olds — who show no declines in voluntary 

reading — are at an all-time high. 

♦ The disparity in reading skills improvement between 9-year-olds and 17-year- 

olds may reflect broader differences in the academic and social climate of 
those age groups. 



Trend in Average Reading Scores for Students Ages 17 and 9 



10 i- 
8 
6 
4 
2 

-2 
-4 
-6 



Age 17 

Age 9 




Reported as differences from 1984 reading scores. 



Test years occurred at irregular intervals. 

Trend analysis based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 



10 To Read or Not To Read 



2. Among high school seniors, the average score has declined for virtually all 
levels of reading. 

♦ Little more than one-third of high school seniors now read proficiently. 1V 



Percentage of 12th-Graders Reading at or Above the Proficient Level 



1992 



2005 



Change 



Rate of decline 



40% 



35% 



-5pp 



-13% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



From 1992 to 2005, the average score declined for the bottom 90% of readers. 
Only for the very best readers of 2005, the score held steady. 



Change in 12th-Grade Reading Scores, by Percentile: 1992 and 2005 



Percentile 



1992 



2005 



90th 
75th 
50th 
25th 
10th 



333 
315 
294 
271 
249 



333 
313 
288 
262 
235 



• The reading gap is widening between males and females. 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Change 





-2 

-6 

-9 

-14 



All score changes from 1992 are statistically significant. 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Average 12th-Grade Reading Scores by Gender 

1992 


2005 


Female 
Male 


297 
287 


292 
279 


Male-female gap 


-10 


-13 



iv For 12th-graders, "Proficient" 
corresponds with a reading score 
of 302 or greater (out of 500). 



To Read or Not To Read 11 



3. Reading proficiency rates are stagnant or declining in adults of both genders 
and all education levels. 

♦ The percentage of men who read at a Proficient level has declined. For women, 
the share of Proficient readers has stayed the same. v 



Percentage 


of Adults Proficient 


in 


Reading 


Prose, 


by Gender 






1992 




2003 




Change 


Rate of decline 


Female 


14% 




14% 




Opp 


0% 


Male 


16% 




13% 




-3pp 


-19% 


Both genders 


i 15% 




13% 




-2pp 


-13% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Average reading scores have declined in adults of virtually all education levels. 



Average Prose Literacy Scores of Adults, by Highest Level of Educational 
Attainment: 1992 and 2003 



Education level: 



1992 



2003 



Change 



Less than/some high school 


216 


207 


High school graduate 


268 


262 


Vocational/trade/business school 


278 


268 


Some college 


292 


287 


Associate's/2-year degree 


306 


298 


Bachelor's degree 


325 


314 


Graduate study/degree 


340 


327 



-9 
-6 

-10 
-5 
-8 
-11 

-13 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 

♦ Even among college graduates, reading proficiency has declined at a 20%-23% 
rate. 



Percentage of College Graduates Proficient in Reading Prose 




1992 2003 Change 


Rate of decline 


Bachelor's degree 40% 31% -9 pp 


-23% 


Graduate study/degree 51% 41% -10 pp 


-20% 



pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



" For adults, "Proficient" corre- 
sponds with a prose literacy score 
of 340 or greater (out of 500). 

'' Exceptions are adults still in 
high school and those with a GED 
or high school equivalency. In 
both cases, score changes from 
1992 to 2003 were not statistically 
significant. 



4. Reading for pleasure correlates strongly with academic achievement. 

♦ Voluntary readers are better readers and writers than non-readers. 

♦ Children and teenagers who read for pleasure on a daily or weekly basis score 

better on reading tests than infrequent readers. 

♦ Frequent readers also score better on writing tests than non-readers or 

infrequent readers. 



12 To Read or Not To Read 



Average Reading Scores by Frequency of Reading for Fun 

Grade 12 in 2005 



Almost every day 



Once or twice a week 



Once or twice a month 



Never or hardly ever 




302 



Reading scores range from to 500. 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Average Writing Scores by Frequency of Reading for Fun 

Grade 12 in 2002 



Almost every day 



Once or twice a week 



Once or twice a month 



Never or hardly ever 



149 




Writing scores range from to 300. 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



To Read or Not To Read 13 



C. The Declines in Reading Have Civic, Social, and Economic 
Implications 

Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient 
readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas. 

1. Employers now rank reading and writing as top deficiencies in new hires. 

♦ 38% of employers find high school graduates "deficient" in reading comprehen- 

sion, while 63% rate this basic skill "very important." 

♦ "Written communications" tops the list of applied skills found lacking in high 

school and college graduates alike. 

♦ One in five U.S. workers read at a lower skill level than their job requires.™ 

♦ Remedial writing courses are estimated to cost more than $3.1 billion for large 

corporate employers and $221 million for state employers."" 

Rated Very Important by Employers 

Percentage of employers who rate the following basic skills as "very important" for high school graduates: 



Reading comprehension 


63% 


English language 


62% 


Writing in English 


49% 


Mathematics 
Foreign languages 


30% 
11% 


Source: The Conference Board, Are They Really Ready to Work?, 2006 



Percentage of Employers Who Rate High School Graduates as Deficient 
in Basic Skills 



Writing in English 

Foreign languages 

Mathematics 

History/geography 

Government/economics 

Science 

Reading comprehension 

Humanities/arts 

English language 



72% 
62% 
54% 
46% 
46% 
45% 
38% 
31% 
21% 



Source: The Conference Board, Are They Really Ready to Work?, 2006 



v " Statistics Canada and OECD, 
Learning a Living: First Results of 
the Adult Literacy and Life Skills 
Survey, 2005, 145. 

V1 " The National Commission on 
Writing, Writing: A Ticket to 
Work... or a Ticket Out: A Survey of 
Business Leaders, 2004, 29, and 
Writing: A Powerful Message from 
State Government, 2005, 32. 



Percentage of Employers Who Rate Job Entrants as Deficient in Applied Skills 



High school graduates deficient in: 




College graduates deficient in: 




Written communication 


81% 


Written communication 


28% 


Leadership 


73% 


Leadership 


24% 


Professionalism/work ethic 


70% 


Professionalism/work ethic 


19% 


Critical thinking/problem solving 


70% 


Creativity/innovation 


17% 


Lifelong learning/self direction 


58% 


Lifelong learning/self-direction 


14% 



Source: The Conference Board, Are They Really Ready to Work?, 2006 



14 To Read or Not To Read 



2. Good readers generally have more financially rewarding jobs. 

♦ More than 60% of employed Proficient readers have jobs in management, or in 

the business, financial, professional, and related sectors. 

♦ Only 18% of Basic readers are employed in those fields. 

♦ Proficient readers are 2.5 times as likely as Basic readers to be earning $850 or 

more a week. 



Percentage Employed in Management and Professional Occupations, by Reading 
Level in 2003 





Management, business 
and financial 


Professional 
and related 


Total in either job 
category 




Proficient 


19% 


42% 


61% 




Basic 


8% 


10% 


18% 




Below Basic 


3% 


4% 


7% J 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Percentage of Full-Time Workers by Weekly Earnings and Reading Level in 2003 





$850-61,149 


$1,150-81,449 


$1,450-$1,949 


$1,950 or more 


Total 


earning $850 
or more 




Proficient 


20% 


13% 


13% 


12% 




58% 




Basic 


12% 


5% 


2% 


4% 




23% 




Below Basic 


7% 


3% 


1% 


2% 




13% i r 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



3. Less advanced readers report fewer opportunities for career growth. 

♦ 38% of Basic readers said their reading level limited their job prospects. 

♦ The percentage of Below-Basic readers who reported this experience was 1.8 

times greater. 

♦ Only 4% of Proficient readers reported this experience. 



Percentage of Adults Who Said Their Reading Skills Limited Their Job 
Opportunities, by Reading Level in 2003 



A little 



Some 



A lot 



Total 



Proficient 


2% 


1% 


1% 


4% 


Basic 


14% 


15% 


9% 


38% 


Below Basic 


13% 


22% 


35% 


70% 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



To Read or Not To Read 15 



IX National Endowment for the 
Arts, The Arts and Civic Engage- 
ment: Involved in Arts, Involved in 
Life, 2006. 



4. Good readers play a crucial role in enriching our cultural and civic life. 

♦ Literary readers are more than 3 times as likely as non-readers to visit 

museums, attend plays or concerts, and create artworks of their own. 

♦ They are also more likely to play sports, attend sporting events, or do outdoor 

activities. 

♦ 18- to 34-year-olds, whose reading rates are the lowest for any adult age group 

under 65, show declines in cultural and civic participation. 1 * 



Participation Rates for Literary Readers in 


2002 








Literary readers 


Non-readers ( 


3ap between groups 


Visit art museums 


43% 




12% 


-31 pp 


Attend plays or musicals 


36% 




10% 


-26 pp 


Attend jazz or classical concerts 


29% 




9% 


-20 pp 


Create photographs, paintings, orwritin 


gs 32% 




10% 


-22 pp 


Attend sporting events 


44% 




27% 


-17 pp 


Play sports 


38% 




24% 


-14 pp 


Exercise 


72% 




40% 


-32 pp 


Do outdoor activities 


41% 




22% 


-19 pp 



pp = percentage points 

Source: National Endowment for the Arts 



5. Good readers make good citizens. 



♦ Literary readers are more than twice as likely as non-readers to volunteer or do 
charity work. x 



Percentage of Literary Readers Who Volunteered in 2002 



Literary readers 



Non-readers 



Gap between groups 



43% 



16% 



-27 pp 



pp = percentage points 

Source: National Endowment for the Arts 



Adults who read well are more likely to volunteer than Basic and Below-Basic 
readers. 



Percentage of Adults Who Volunteered, by Reading Level in 2003 





Less than 


Once a week 


Total who 






once a week 


or more 


volunteered 




Proficient 


32% 


25% 


57% 




Basic 


16% 


15% 


31% 




Below Basic 


8% 


10% 


18% \ 


\ 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



Ibid. 



16 To Read or Not To Read 



♦ 84% of Proficient readers voted in the 2000 presidential election, compared 
with 53% of Below-Basic readers. 



Percentage of Adults Who Voted in the 2000 Presidential Election, by 2003 
Reading Level 



Proficient 
Basic 
Below Basic 



84% 
62% 
53% 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 

6. Deficient readers are far more likely than skilled readers to be high school 
dropouts. 

♦ Half of America's Below-Basic readers failed to complete high school — a 

percentage gain of 5 points since 1992. 

♦ One-third of readers at the Basic level dropped out of high school. 



Percentage of Adults at or Below "Basic" Prose Reading Level Who Did Not 
Complete High School: 1992, 2003 







Prose readi 


ng level 






Below Basic 


Basic 


1992 
45% 


2003 
50% 


Change 
+5pp 


1992 

38% 


2003 
33% 


Change 
-5pp 



pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



♦ For high school dropouts, the average reading score is 55 points lower than for 

high school graduates — and the gap has grown since 1992. 

♦ This fact is especially troubling in light of recent estimates that only 70% of 

high school students earn a diploma on time. xl 



Average Prose Reading Scores for Adult High School Graduates and Those Who 
Did Not Complete High School: 1992, 2003 





Prose 


read 


"9 


score 




Highest level of education 


1992 






2003 


Change 


Less than/some high school 
High school graduate 


216 
268 






207 
262 


-9 
-6 


Gap between groups 


-52 






-55 





Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



" Editorial Projects in Education, 
Diplomas Count 2007: Ready for 
What? Preparing Students for 
College, Careers, and Life after 
High School, Executive Summary. 



To Read or Not To Read 17 



"■ U.S. Department of Education, 
National Center for Education 
Statistics, Literacy Behind Bars: 
Results from tiie 2003 National 
Assessment of Adult Literacy 
Prison Survey, 2007, 77. 



7. Deficient readers are more likely than skilled readers to be out of the workforce. 

♦ More than half of Below-Basic readers are not in the workforce. 

♦ 44°c of Basic readers lack a full-time or part-time job — twice the percentage of 

Proficient readers in that category. 

Percentage of Adults Employed Full-Time or Part-Time, by 2003 Reading Level 



Proficient 

Basic 

5e :,\ 5 = 5 : 



78% 
56% 
45% 



1 



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 

8. Poor reading skills are endemic in the prison population. 

♦ 56°o of adult prisoners read at or below the Basic level. 

♦ Adult prisoners have an average prose reading score of 257 — 18 points lower 

than non-prisoners. 

♦ Only 3°o of adult prisoners read at a Proficient level. 

♦ Low reading scores persist in prisoners nearing the end of their term, when 

they are expected to return to family society, and a more productive life.* 11 



Percentage of Adult Prisoners and Household Populations by 2003 Reading Level 



Prose reading level 



Household 



Prison 



Gap 



Below Basic 
Basic 

Intermediate 
Proficient 



14% 
29% 
44% 
13% 



16% 

40% 

41% 

3% 



*+2 pp 
+11 pp 
*-3pp 

-10 pp 



* = not statistically significant 

pp = percentage points 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 



18 To Read or Not To Read 



Conclusion 

Self-reported data on individual behavioral patterns, combined with national test 
scores from the Department of Education and other sources, suggest three distinct 
trends: a historical decline in voluntary reading rates among teenagers and young 
adults; a gradual worsening of reading skills among older teens; and declining profi- 
ciency in adult readers. 

The Department of Education's extensive data on voluntary reading patterns and 
prose reading scores yield a fourth observation: frequency of reading for pleasure 
correlates strongly with better test scores in reading and writing. Frequent readers 
are thus more likely than infrequent or non-readers to demonstrate academic 
achievement in those subjects. 

From the diversity of data sources in this report, other themes emerge. Analyses 
of voluntary reading and reading ability, and the social characteristics of advanced 
and deficient readers, identify several discrepancies at a national level: 

♦ Less reading for pleasure in late adolescence than in younger age groups 

♦ Declines in reading test scores among 17-year-olds and high school seniors in 

contrast to younger age groups and lower grade levels 

♦ Among high school seniors, a wider rift in the reading scores of advanced and 

deficient readers 

♦ A male-female gap in reading proclivity and achievement levels 

♦ A sharp divide in the reading skills of incarcerated adults versus non-prisoners 

♦ Greater academic, professional, and civic benefits associated with high levels of 

leisure reading and reading comprehension 

Longitudinal studies are needed to confirm and monitor the effects of these differ- 
ences over time. Future research also could explore factors such as income, ethnicity, 
region, and race, and how they might alter the relationship between voluntary read- 
ing, reading test scores, and other outcomes. Critically, further studies should weigh 
the relative effectiveness and costs and benefits of programs to foster lifelong reading 
and skills development. For instance, such research could trace the effects of elec- 
tronic media and "screen reading" on the development of readers in early childhood. 

Recent studies of American time-use and consumer expenditure patterns high- 
light a series of choices lurking in the question "To read or not to read?" The future 
of reading rests on the daily decisions Americans will continue to make when con- 
fronted with an expanding menu of leisure goods and activities. The import of these 
national findings, however, is that reading frequently is a behavior to be cultivated 
with the same zeal as academic achievement, financial or job performance, and global 
competitiveness. 

Technical Note 

This report presents some of the most reliable and currently available statistics on 
American reading rates, literacy, and reader characteristics. No attempt has been 
made to explore methods for reading instruction, or to delve into racial, ethnic, or 
income traits of voluntary readers, though age, gender, and education are discussed 
at various points in the analyses. The majority of the data stem from large, nationally 
representative studies completed after the 2004 publication of the NEAs Reading at 
Risk report. Unless a footnote is provided, sources for all data in this Executive Sum- 



To Read or Not To Read 19 



mary are given with each accompanying chart or table. All adult reading scores and 
proficiency rates refer to the Department of Education's prose literacy category. 

Caution should be used in comparing results from the several studies cited in this 
publication, as the studies use different methodologies, survey populations, response 
rates, and standard errors associated with the estimates, and the studies often were 
designed to serve different research aims. No definite causal relationship can be made 
between voluntary reading and reading proficiency, or between voluntary reading, 
reading proficiency, and the reader characteristics noted in the report. Finally, except 
where book reading or literary reading rates are specifically mentioned, all references 
to voluntary reading are intended to cover all types of reading materials. 

Office of Research & Analysis 
National Endowment for the Arts 



20 To Read or Not To Read 




NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS 

1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 

Washington, DC 20506-0001 

(202) 682-5400 










■ 






*K 



w 



m 


















Not for sale — Available for free at www.arts.gov