Do We Read Less?
BY ALEX SARANICH '23
Has your grandmother ever asked you, “why don’t you pick up a book and read?” As technology’s grasp on the entertainment industry widens, a growing generational divide in entertainment suggests a decline in reading. While more people are beginning to pick up books, each individual person spends less time reading. Baby boomers tend to believe that a small fraction of Gen Z reads, but this is untrue. By examining context and trends over multiple generations, we can build a clearer understanding of when, why, and how much our society reads.
In this context, books are defined as physical, online and auditory pieces of literature. As for the different generations, the Silent Generation is defined as ages 75+, Baby Boomers are ages 57-75, Generation X are ages 41-56, Millennials are ages 25-40, and Generation Z includes ages 10-25.
One of the most common misconceptions is that teenagers don't read as many books compared to past generations. As previously mentioned, while the time an individual reads has decreased, the amount of people reading has increased. A survey by the Library Journal found that 28% of Gen Z reads for work or school but seldom reads for pleasure. The Silent Generation only reads 0.5% for work or school. People falsely interpret that the older people in Silent Generation read more for enjoyment than Gen Z, but this statistic overshadows key context: a significant portion of Gen Z is still in school. Gen Z is more likely to still read books for school compared to the Silent Generation which is not pursuing education for the most part, providing an explanation for these statistics. The survey also found that 25.2% of Gen Z does not have time to read for pleasure, compared to the 4.4% of the Silent Generation who do not have time to read. Thus, school as well as the amount of free time Gen Z has in comparison to older generations impacts how much they read.
Although Gen Z’s future in terms of reading is concerning, people do not actually read books less now if Millennials serve as the point of comparison. A small amount of Gen Z reads books for pleasure while for other generations, the rate at which they use public libraries is over half for millennials, slightly less for Gen X, and about the same amount for Boomers. In terms of the time spent reading books each day, the Silent Generation reads for 35 minutes, 26 minutes for Boomers, 10 minutes for Gen X and a few minutes less for Millennials and Gen Z. Even though the amount of people who read books has increased, the time people have spent reading has decreased. With the previous statistic, excluding Gen Z, the amount of books read per generation is actually higher than it was in the past, but the time of each individual reader is decreasing. Thus, the amount of books being read is decreasing since less time taken to read books by a single person each day means less books are finished.
Expanding on how much Gen Z could read, it was found that in 58 studies from 2000-2017 with 170000 subjects, young people were still significantly better at reading print than digitally even though most thought they were better at reading online. Normally this statistic would not mean much in and of itself, but Gen Z has the lowest rate of borrowing books at a library a year at only 2.7 books on average; this is a stark contrast to the Millennials’ rate of 4.7 books borrowed, with the Silent Generation is borrowing books at double the rate compared to Millennials in a year. This data suggests that Gen Z to some degree is reading books more inefficiently because they believe that they are better at reading digitally. The way in which we have consumed media has changed, affecting the manner in which we read.
If Gen Z was impacted in some way by the technology though, then how much reading would be online rather than offline? Does social media affect Gen Z’s reading rates? Well, Gen Z spends almost 3 hours on average in social media and while 80% of teens use social media, less than 20% read books for enjoyment. While these statistics may seem related to demonstrate that social media is moving children away from books, the two statistics are not scientifically proven to have correlation. Something to note, however, is that more of Gen Z is spending more time on fewer social media platforms, particularly the most visual-based like Youtube and Instagram. As more people use social media, the amount of reading done on these platforms decreases, which has also been occurring with books.
As books have become more accessible, more people have started reading. Many have started reading in ways unavailable to generations before them. Although the amount of time an individual spends reading has decreased, we must acknowledge the vast array of literature available to people. These ideas leave us wondering in what ways reading will change over the next few generations. What new methods of sharing knowledge will we create?