NEA survey: Adults are still reading, but look less to literature

A NEA 2012 survey found that the number of adults who read at least one book in 2012 was about the same as 2008, but fewer were picking up literature.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
A Cambridge commuter uses an e-reader.

A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that about as many adults are reading as in 2008 but that their perusal of literature has slightly declined.

The NEA compared data to the last survey conducted by the organization in 2008. That year, the NEA found that 54.3 percent of American adults read at least one book, and the number stayed mostly the same for 2012, with 54.5 percent of American adults having read at least one book.

However, the number of adults who read at least one literary title (defined as a novel, play, short story, or poetry) in 2012 declined slightly, with 46.9 percent of adults having done so in 2012 compared to 50.2 in 2008.

As noted by Publishers Weekly, surveys found that 54 percent of adults had read at least one work of literature in 1992 but that the number had fallen to 46.7 of adults by 2002. The NEA responded by creating various programs that encouraged adults to pick up a work of literature, and numbers rose to that 50.2 percent in 2008. However, numbers have now declined again.

According to the NEA, adults who are 65 and older read more than any other age range of adults.

Surprised by the literature numbers? While blockbuster series like the E.L. James “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy and the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins are fiction, chart-toppers such as “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg all fall into the nonfiction category.

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