NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 21, 2007

Americans are reading less often and less well, according to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) entitled, "To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence."

The researchers found that 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.

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.

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, says the NEA.

Source: Editorial, "The death of reading," Washington Times, November 21, 2007.

For NEA report: 


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