How Many Books Does the Average Person Read?
George R. R Martin once said readers relive thousands of lives reading, while non-readers only live once. Americans have varied reading habits across different demographics. Some prefer to flip the pages, others listen to audiobooks, and for some, scrolling through an e-book is okay.
We’ll tell you how many books you can read annually and in your lifetime in this post. We will disaggregate book readership based on age, sex, and education. Further, we shall explore current trends in the reading world and seek to understand why Americans are reading fewer books.
The Pew Research Center released their latest data on American reading habits, and the results show some interesting — and somewhat surprising — trends. Roughly 72 percent of American adults read a book in 2015, continuing a gradual decline over the last 5 years (from 79 percent in 2011). The figure now stands at 75 percent, according to the recent statistics released by Pew Research Center.
However, these stats include people who reported reading “one book…in part,” so it’s unclear how many made it all the way through.
The average number of books each person read over the course of a year was 12, but the most avid readers inflate that number. The most frequently reported number was 4 books per year. Of course, there’s plenty of variation among demographics. Certain groups read more, or less, than the country as a whole. Here’s what the data showed:
Educated, affluent women read the most
Women tend to read more than men. About 77 percent of American women read a book in 2015, compared with 67 percent of American guys. Also, the average woman read 14 books in 12 months, while the average man read only 9. Across both genders, readership also went up with education and income.
About 90 percent of college grads read at least one book a year, compared to 34 percent of people who haven’t finished high school. Also, the more money they earned, the likelier they were to be readers. It’s hard to say whether education and income are causes of this trend since people who go to college probably grow up reading more anyway, and income correlates with education. But the bottom line is that educated, high-earning women sit atop the reading pyramid in America.
Older people read less
One notable aspect of the data is that people tend to read less as they age. Fully 80 percent of 18–29-year-olds reported reading at least one book, compared to 69 percent of seniors (65+).
Americans don’t read as much as most other countries
Oh no! The ugly truth is that Americans as a whole lag behind most of the rest of the world when it comes to reading books. Are we too busy playing Candy Crush or posting on Facebook and Twitter to crack an actual paper spine? Maybe.
The map below, reprinted in The Paris Review, shows that Indian people actually spend the most time in-between pages, followed closely by the Thai and Chinese. Americans are slackers compared to these countries, spending just a little more than half the time reading that our Indian counterparts do.
CEOs tend to be voracious readers
Outside of the Pew study, we also looked for stats on how much the average CEO reads. It was hard to locate a formal study, but anecdotal evidence suggests that executives read 4–5 books per month, far outpacing the general population. As for what they’re reading, it’s not all motivational or business-themed: many top CEOs also reported reading novels, plays, and philosophy. Check out what some specific big names are consuming with this info-graphic.
Current trends in the reading world: ebooks and audiobooks
Americans still prefer print to other book forms, and more than two-thirds of Americans admit to reading a book in print, audio, or electronic. E-book readers grew in popularity, from 25% to 30%, while Americans who listened to audiobooks were 23%. Looks like the habit of reading e-books is picking.
Understanding the decline in book readership
Book readership among Americans is declining. The 6% number of Americans who loved passing the time reading a book is the lowest ever since Gallup started surveying book readership. The least rate was 10%.
Subgroups that were avid readers are now reading fewer books. Comparing 2021 stats with 2002 to 2016, women dropped from 19.3% to 15.7%. Americans above 55 are also reading fewer books, 9.5% down from 10.8%. College students reported the most significant book readership drop, from 21.1% to 14.6%.
Researchers should do more studies to ascertain why Americans are reading less, noting that book readership decline has nothing to do with Americans not reading any book-17% (Gallup) or 23% (Pew Research Centre).
Perhaps the love for other sources of entertainment has grown, or maybe Americans have no time to read, or maybe they have lost interest in books.
Perhaps worries about COVID 19 led fewer people to visit libraries and bookstores. Still, Americans could have books delivered to their doorstep or download e-books and audiobooks. So, book access is not that much of an issue. In fact, print book sales increased by 9% in 2021.
How many books does the average person read during their lifetime?
The average reader will complete 12 books in a year. If the life expectancy is 86 for females and 82 for males, and the proper reading age 25 years, Literary Hub notes that the average number of books read in a lifetime is 735 for females and 684 for males.
How much do you read?
If you’re an educated, young female CEO, the data says you’re probably reading something right now! If not, you can always hit your local library or bookstore to find something to sink your teeth into.
Most people have read no more than 6 of these beloved books despite them being classics. It’s never too late to reinvest in reading, and there’s a good chance you’ll become a more interesting person as a result. For research-proven techniques and strategies on how to read faster (and remember more of what you read), check out an Iris Reading course online or in your city. Happy reading!
Thomas Whittington is an instructor with Iris Reading. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005 despite being a painfully slow reader. In 2008, he took an Iris course and, with practice, dramatically improved his reading speed. Hey, better late than never! Thomas' other interests include acting, comedy, and the Chicago Cubs.