“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain
It’s probably no surprise to learn that the American bookworm is a dying species. People are reading fewer books than ever, even though there is a much wider array of books available. In fact, despite the 375% increase in book publications over the past 6 years and over a million books being published annually, a recent PEW survey showed that adults read, on average, only five books a year. More alarmingly, 27% of people polled hadn’t read a single book!
There are many things that can be considered contributing factors to the death of the bibliophile. The internet, specifically social media, takes up a great deal of attention; added to the need for two income households, people seem to generally have less time to read than before. There’s also a supply and demand factor. With over a million books published every year, the market is oversaturated in every genre and finding quality reading is becoming more difficult. In fact, less than 1% of books published will actually make it to bookstore shelves.
But there’s an overlooked factor that seems to go hand in hand with how many books a person reads: Education. A PEW study noted that a person’s level of education directly correlated with how many books a person read in any given year. The average college graduate read five more books per year than someone with only a high school level education. The study doesn’t go into depth as to why a college-educated person reads more, but it stands to reason that those with a degree have learned to enjoy reading more and found value in the activity more so than their less educated counterparts. In fact, the demographic for the most avid readers in the United States are well educated, wealthy females and CEO’s.
Since there is a close relationship between education and readership, perhaps the decline can be attributed to the dwindling college retention rates. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that there was a 2.1% decrease in college graduates over a year’s time, which was twice the rate of decline from the previous reporting year. There was also a 3% increase in the dropout rate.
At first glance, this theory does not seem to hold water in other parts of the world. India, despite having an extremely poor education system, has the highest reader rate in the world. They spend an average of 10 hours per person, per week reading. However, they also have an 86% college graduate rate and by the year 2020 are expected to produce more post-secondary graduates than the United States. Likewise, China doesn’t even make the top ten most educated countries, yet produces the largest number of college graduates. They rank 3rd of countries who read the most. Sadly, the US ranks 23rd on this list, only reading about half the amount of time India’s citizens do. Not surprisingly, this seems to go hand in hand with our education ranking, where we receive a disappointing 14th place.
It’s clear that the post-secondary education system in the United States needs to improve if we want more readers. As one of the top producers of literature in the world, it’s sad to see a decline in this area. I truly hope that this downward trend in education can be overcome; for with the death of the bookworm, a society can soon follow. I leave you with an exceptionally apt quote by Ray Bradbury:
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
YouTube Channel: Nerd Alert
Featured image via Online Athens
h/t The Atlantic