Reading—A Lost Art

Want a shock? According to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) less than 50% of adults in the US are reading literature. The decline in reading is across the board. From 1982 to 2002, we've lost 20 million potential readers. The worst hit reading group are those of younger ages-the loss is 28%! The NEA says we're spiraling downward at an increasing rate-the reading decline has tripled over the last ten years.

National Reading Crisis

Does a decline in reading habits spell trouble? Yes, according to the NEA report, which calls the news a "national crisis."

  • Reading develops the ability for concentration and imagination.

  • Reading enriches life.

  • Reading advances literacy.

  • Reading enhances culture and civic involvement.

Who is Reading?

Men are reading less than women, but both groups are reading less. For example, about 30% of men are reading literature. Among specific ethnic groups Hispanic Americans are faring the worst, although reading declines are evident in whites, African Americans and other racial groups.

What Are We Doing Instead of Reading?

Not surprisingly, reading is being replaced by television. The contrast between literature readers and non-literacy readers is startling.

  • Literature readers watch an average of 2.7 hours of television each day.

  • Non-literature readers watch an average of 3.1 hours of television each day.

  • People who do not watch much television are 48% more likely to be frequent readers (than the 3-hour-per-day-television watchers) and are reading between 12-49 books every year.

What Are We Losing By Not Reading?

Quality of lifestyle is affected by reading habits. The NEA says that non-readers are as likely to be involved in cultural and sports activities, and volunteering. On the other hand, literary reading makes a person:

  • three times more likely to go to a performing arts event

  • four times more likely to go to an art museum

  • two-and-a-half times more likely to volunteer

  • one-and-a-half times more likely to attend or be involved in sports.

Simply put reading literature motivates people to participate in other activities.

What Can We Do About The Reading Decline?

Reading education is the most important factor. Learning to read early and learning to read for life are major keys. The study shows that a mere 14% percent of adults with a high school education read literature. But graduate students are reading five times as much! The study ends by concluding, "America can no longer take active and engaged literacy for granted. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."

We must return to reading!