Young People Reading “A Lot”? Not Really
A reality check from the blog of University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham:
“A new survey of American reading habits was published earlier this week. Much of the news coverage led with the somewhat surprising finding that young people (age 16-29), supposedly enamored of gaming and video content, reported that they read and use libraries. In fact, that they do so more than older people.
Sexy stuff, but I think it’s misleading.
One message is that young people are reading ‘a lot.’ What constitutes ‘a lot’ is a judgement call, obviously, but in this study the data showed that 83% of 18-29 year-olds had a read a book sometime in the previous year. That strikes me as a low bar to be considered ‘a reader.’
Other data show that Americans spend much more time watching television each day than they do reading.
The second way in which the coverage of the Pew study was deceptive lay in the reported age difference. Yes, young people were more likely than older people to report having read a book in the past year, but that difference was very likely due to the fact that many of them were students, doing required reading.
By the sometime-in-the-last year measure, older and younger Americans are about the same, except insofar as they are required to read for work or school.
Likewise, the increased use of libraries by young respondents is likely mediated by their need to use libraries for schoolwork.
There have been many reports of American reading habits in the last fifty years, and especially in the last twenty. The overall picture is that reading dropped when television became widely available, and hasn’t changed much since then.” (Read more here.)
This is troubling, because reading serious books, magazines and newspapers is far and away the best way to acquire the rich base of content knowledge that is necessary for deep thinking and analysis.