Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low

By Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post

The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004, according to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2004, roughly 28 percent of Americans age 15 and older read for pleasure on a given day. Last year, the figure was about 19 percent.

That steep drop means that aggregate reading time among Americans has fallen, from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes per person per day in 2017.

Reading declines are higher among men. The share of men reading for pleasure on any given day fell from 25 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2017, a drop of nearly 40 percent. The decline among women was a more modest 29 percent, from 31 percent in 2003 to 22 percent in 2017.

The survey data shows declines in leisure reading across all age levels. Percentage-wise, the likelihood of reading declined the most among Americans ages 35 to 44, with smaller declines for both younger and older age groups.

The American Time Use Survey is based on a nationally representative sample of about 26,000 individuals. Respondents answer questions and fill out detailed time diaries about how they spent the previous day. The large sample size means the survey’s time-use estimates are extremely precise relative to traditional phone surveys, which may involve only 1,000 people or fewer.

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