New NEA Study Finds Voluntary Reading in Decline

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On November 19, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) released To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, a new analysis of reading patterns in the U.S. The study, which is a follow-up to NEA's 2004 Reading at Risk, revealed recent declines in voluntary reading and test scores alike, trends NEA described as having "severe consequences for American society."

"The new NEA study is the first to bring together reliable, nationally representative data, including everything the federal government knows about reading," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country's culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children's educational achievement."

Among the study's key findings:

  • Americans are reading less. Teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years. Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.

  • 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. Nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension "very important" for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill.

The full To Read or Not to Read study and an Executive Summary are available as downloadable PDFs on the NEA website,