If you’re convinced that the combination of television, video games, social media, longer work hours, and accelerated lifestyles has caused Americans to read fewer books, you’re right. Recent polls reveal that around one in four U.S. adults read no books at all last year—a proportion that is three times as great as the eight percent who read no books in 1978.

This post was updated on January 31, 2021.

According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll asking 1,000 U.S. adults about their reading habits, 41 percent of respondents had not read a fiction book in the past year; 42 percent had not read a nonfiction book. The two groups overlapped, with 28 percent of respondents reading no books at all in the past year.

And recently the Pew Research Center reported that more than one-quarter of American adults (27%) hadn’t read a single book in the past year—nary a book between covers or on an e-reader of any type. In a separate study released by Pew, only seven percent of respondents reported reading e-books exclusively. Of the 76 percent who said they’d read at least one book last year, 69 percent read them between covers, while 28 percent said they’d used an electronic device.

Combining the three sources (HuffPost/YouGov, Pew, and Gallup), you can see that the number of non-book-readers has tripled since 1978.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll showed that 25 percent of Americans read between one and five books last year, 15 percent read between six and ten books, 20 percent read between 11 and 50, and eight percent read more than 50. (If you read this blog regularly, you can figure out that I was one of those eight percent, since I generally post at least three reviews per week.)

E-book reading is increasing, but it’s got a long way to go: Fifty percent of respondents spent time in the past week reading a physical book, while only 19 percent spent time reading an e-book.

Here are a few more juicy factoids that emerge from research reported online:

  • Fifteen percent of the U.S. population has specific reading disorders
  • Forty-six percent of American adults can’t understand the labels of their prescriptions
  • Fifty percent of U.S. adults are unable to read a book at an eighth grade level
  • Forty-two percent of college students never read another book after they graduate.
  • Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy a book this year.
  • Fifteen percent of inmates in penitentiaries and jails are literate. (Note: 15 percent are literate, not illiterate.)

More than a little discouraging, isn’t it?

For further reading

You might also be interested in:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.