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Survey Says: Slightly More Than Half of Adults Read a Book Last Year

In a bit of news we’ll interpret as the glass being just over half full, the National Endowment for the Arts says 54.5 % of adult Americans voluntarily (meaning it wasn’t for work or school) read a book in 2012, the same as when the group did its last survey in 2008.

The percentage of people who read at least one “work of literature”–defined as novels, short stories, poetry or plays–ticked down to to 46.9% from 50.2% four years earlier. No surprise, women continue to be the bigger readers of both fiction and nonfiction. While 63.6% of females responding to the survey last year said they’d read at least one book, only 44.7% of males did. Breaking it out to a “work of literature,” 36.9% of men reported reading in 2012, compared with 56.1% of women.

The survey also looks at reading by race, education level and age. Nearly 61% of whites said they’d read a book in 2012, unchanged from 2008, while the percentages of African Americans and Hispanics who read a book ticked up. Among people with advanced degrees, 81.7% had read a book, almost twice the rate of those with just a high school education.

The reading figures are part of a broader report titled Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. That report also found 59% of Americans went to a movie last year and 37% attended a live performance.