"Average of 2 Hours/Day Watching TV and 7 Minutes/Day Reading " – Americans Reading Less New Study Says

By , November 19, 2007 11:25 pm

Tonight I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered an interesting story that fits right in with Unplug Your Kids so I absolutely have to report it for those who might have missed it. Sorry to postpone my next Christmas/Holiday Unplugged post for anyone who really cares, but I’ll get it up tomorrow morning or evening.

The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) has just released today, a new study on the reading habits of Americans: children, teens, and adults. Here are some of the 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.

++ Americans are reading less well – reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.

Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.

2005 reading scores for male 12th-graders are 13 points lower than for female 12th-graders, and that gender gap has widened since 1992.

Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.

According to NPR, an earlier NEA study was criticized for only considering adults reading literary works, fiction, poetry, and drama. This time the study also included all ages, and all reading materials, including newspapers, magazines, and even the internet. The results were the same.

There seems to be a decline in pleasure reading beginning in middle school and continuing on through high school and adulthood. People read less and less…and therefore, read less and less well. This affects academic and economic performance, as well as civic and political contributions.

Of course the obvious culprits appear to be electronic distractions, however some speak of a positive “New Literacy” among today’s youth, “a literacy not limited to books.” Dana Joya, Chairman of the NEA debunks this claim. Apparently all the kids tested engaged in the same sort of electronic activities, but those who READ BOOKS, did better on the tests.

Other interesting stats from the study :

55% who read below “the basic level,” were unemployed.

Only 3% of prison inmates are proficient readers.

(and I have to say I have not read the complete study so as to be able to exactly define the terms “basic level” and “proficient,” but at least this gives you a general idea).

The final tidbit that caught my attention from this report was that the NEA found that socio-economic status did not have an impact on the amount that children read, rather the defining characteristic, was the number of books in the home.


NPR story: Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in US

NEA: 11/19/07 New Reading Study Summary (and link to download full report)

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and photographer jeltovski

9 Responses to “"Average of 2 Hours/Day Watching TV and 7 Minutes/Day Reading " – Americans Reading Less New Study Says”

  1. Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter says:

    Number of books in the home? Yikes. I wonder if that reflects the ability to purchase books or the desire to purchase books?

    Or includes library books?

    I wouldn’t have been surprised if the TV-watching time for 15 to 24 year olds was even more than two hours.

    All in all, troubling findings.

  2. CelticMommy says:

    Oh this is so sad! I read to both boys as well as read myself every day… it is the most wonderful habit I have ever kept in my life and I hope to pass it along to Em and Ro. If I don’t have money to buy book, I am very fortunate to have friends to borrow from, libraries to frequent, paperback swap to get them from and I always have wish lists for me, Rob, Em and Ro as gifts if anyone asks. Reading is such an important aspect of our lives… it is so enriching.

    Now, we just need to conk those who read little or not at all on the heads and get them in tune with the program.

    Excellent blog! Sad, but excellent.

  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    When I have some more time I shall have to read the whole study to find out how they reached their conclusions and what their definition of “books in the home” is. I based this post on the NPR report and they didn’t go into great detail. It does seem discouraging though, doesn’t it.

  4. greenemother says:

    Yeah, I heard that story as well on NPR and I am still shocked by it! It’s funny, because since we put away our TV, reading is one of our major family past times whether its reading to Emma, reading newspapers online,or just reading a good book. But I do find it interesting that they said that the children who weren’t as involved in reading came from families where they were barely any books present! It is scary when you go into homes and you see a huge screen tv and barely a book insight! Am I crazy that I want a home that’s floor to ceiling bookshelves?

  5. cynematic says:

    there’s only so much the harry potter effect can do to boost literacy.

    i’d thought that perhaps i’d slowly let the Unreliable Narrator watch a little bit of tv as he got older, but now i’ve changed my mind. we’ll just have to be otherwise engaged for the next 16 years.

  6. Christine says:

    [quote]But I do find it interesting that they said that the children who weren’t as involved in reading came from families where they were barely any books present![end quote]

    And like any statistic, there are exceptions. In my home, we have a TV and yes my kids watch way too much. (We don’t have cable so they watch DVDs.) But DH and I don’t hardly watch TV/DVDs at all… maybe once a month or less. We are AVID readers. We read to our kids every night at bedtime. But my oldest (9yo) just don’t like reading at all. Despite owning 6 bookcases full of books, weekly library trips, etc. I can’t get her to pick a book up on her own. Can we blame the TV set?

    I’m not sure. Quite honestly, I blame (in this case) genetics… her bio father hated reading, too.

    But next month I guess we’ll find out if no TV = more reading when we go unplugged for Advent. :)

  7. Mom Unplugged says:


    Please be sure and let me know how it goes for you with your “Unplugged Advent.”

    I do have to agree with you that some kids are more inclined to be readers than others. And you are right, it may well be genetic.

    I do feel that too much TV, video games, etc., and also lack of books might well sap the will to read out of some kids who would otherwise be readers. Likewise, there are probably kids who are not destined to be avid readers despite wonderful environments. These children most likely have other strengths. It is true that we should not generalize.

    By the way, it occurs to me that this subject would make a wonderful post, thanks for the idea!

  8. Christine says:

    [quote]I do feel that too much TV, video games, etc., and also lack of books might well sap the will to read out of some kids who would otherwise be readers.[end quote]

    Oh I am definitely not disagreeing! LOL But just responding that there could be other factors, too. I don’t like the TV on too much. It gets under my skin in a way I can’t put into words. But when I have rough days – the baby is teething all day and night, and such – I resort to it. Honestly, before, we wouldn’t turn it off because we would then hear long and loud tantrums from both the girls (2yo I can understand but the 9yo, too???). The last 2 nights though we have turned the tube off for a “break” and endured the tantrums. Wow! After the tirades the girls started coloring. *gasp* LOL

    One interesting thing to note related to this post… my youngest seems to be automatically inclined towards reading (despite the TV being on)… ever since she was a baby, she loved books. She would “read” the words out of my DH’s giant Strong’s Concordance. No pictures, only tiny words throughout 1700 pages. That would enthrall her for 20 minutes… and you know nothing captures a baby’s attention for 20 minutes!! I wished I would have taken photos! She is definitely a born reader – TV or no TV. :)

    I will definitely be posting how our Advent Unplugged goes! :D

    (p.s. you can post from my Advent post… the picture & idea doesn’t belong to me but I’ve linked them to who it does… gotta love the sharing of ideas that blogs allow us to do! :D )

  9. dawn224 says:


    I am happy that when the Kaiser picks up books he CRACKS UP at the photos on each page. I hope this is a good sign. Also reminds me to READ to him.

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