November 30, 2015

Pew: Younger Americans Reading More

Books Read By Age bar graph

Books Read By Age
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

According to Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits, from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 83 percent of Americans aged 16-29 read a book in the past year, compared to 78 percent of all Americans over 16. High school and college age respondents were most likely to have done so—college aged adults have the highest overall reading rate of any age group—and adults aged 65 and older, least. Though of course much of younger adults’ reading is for school or work, about three-quarters say they read for pleasure or to keep up with current events.

When it comes to libraries, 60 percent of Americans under 30 have used one in the past year. By far the most common library users are high schoolers, at 72 percent. They’re also the only ones who are more likely to have borrowed the last book they read from the library than to have bought it, and most likely to get book recommendations. This is in addition to school library use (or academic library use, for college aged respondents): as Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Research Analyst, emphasized to Gary Price of, “in the survey, all questions asked about public library usage.”

Library Use chart by age

Library Use in the Past Year By Age
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

However, despite their heavy usage, high schoolers are the least likely to say the library is important to them, at just over 50 percent. Library usage drops to 58 percent for those aged 18 to 24 and 54 percent for those aged 25-29, but as usage drops, value rises: almost three-quarters say that the library is important to them and their families.

The Kids Aren’t (All) Online

Despite all the talk about digital natives, the vast majority of readers aged 16-29—some 75 percent—have read a print book in the last year. Only 19 percent read an ebook, and 11 percent listened to an audiobook. And those younger readers who do read ebooks are most likely to read them on a laptop or desktop computer, at 55 percent. Cell phones came in second, at 41 percent; tablets were dead last at only 16 percent.

Dedicated ebook readers such as Kindles or Nooks only came in slightly higher, at 23 percent, but libraries have the potential to raise that number: 58 percent of those who don’t currently borrow ebooks from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if offered. Only 10 percent had borrowed an ebook from the library, perhaps because more than half, 52 percent, didn’t know they could (a finding confirmed by LJ’s recent Patron Profiles research). And being young doesn’t automatically mean patrons feel they know how to use technology: One third of those under age 30 say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to take a library class on how to download ebooks onto handheld devices, and almost as many would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to take a course at a library in how to use an e-reader or tablet computer.

Book Formats bar graph

Book Formats Read in the Past Year, By Age
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

However, the continuing predominance of print and the low rate of ebook borrowing from libraries doesn’t mean younger readers aren’t accessing econtent at all: 47 percent of younger readers read long-form econtent such as books, magazines, or newspapers, and 40 percent of those who did say that they now spend more time reading than they used to due to the availability of e-content. (High schoolers are less likely to have read an ebook, but more interested in checking out a pre-loaded reader.)

Younger Readers In Context

This most recent report supplements earlier Pew releases which have focused on overlapping populations. Libraries, patrons, and ebooks, issued in June, dug into ebook borrowing by patrons of all ages, while in April Pew focused on ebook readers of all kinds. In 2011, the center studied dedicated ebook reader ownership.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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