New NEA Report Shows Literary Reading on the Rise

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Literary reading among American adults is on the rise for the first time in more than 25 years, according to new report released this week by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy" presents evidence that "there has been a decisive and unambiguous increase [in literary reading] among virtually every group measured," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. The report designates "literary reading" as the "reading of any novels, short stories, poems, or plays in print or online."

Of special note is a significant growth in literary reading among young adults (ages 18 - 24). NEA reports their numbers have grown by 3.4 million readers, an increase of nine percentage points. The rate of their rise as readers (more than 21 percent) is especially significant, when compared to the steep decline in reading (20 percent) reported among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2002.

While the NEA survey does not seek to identify the reasons for the changes in American's reading habits, Gioia attributes the upward trend to the mobilization of parents, teachers, and other community leaders who made reading a priority in response to such previous dire reports as NEA's Reading at Risk and To Read or Not to Read.

Among some of Read on the Rise's other key findings:

  • The overall adult literary reading rate has risen by seven percent, from 46.7 in 2002 to 50.2 percent in 2008.
  • The number of adult literary readers has grown by 16.6 million, reflecting higher adult reading rates and overall population growth.
  • Literary reading rates have increased among whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics, with the greatest rate of change (20 percent) among Hispanics.
  • More adults are reading fiction (47 percent said they read a novel or short story in 2008); however, the numbers of those reading poetry and drama continued to decline.
  • The number of adults reading books grew by 3.5 million (driven by population growth); the percentage of adults who said they had read a book that was not required for work or school declined slightly, however, from 56.6 percent to 54.3 percent.
  • Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature online or via download also read books, either in print or online, and nearly 15 percent reported reading literature online in 2008.

The complete Reading on the Rise report is available on the NEA website.