There is a question I would like to ask you. How many books have you read so far this year? No pressure, no judgment, just respond honestly, I’m just being curious. Five? Ten maybe?
I’ve done a little bit of research before writing this article, so I have an idea of what you might be thinking right now.
Depending on your job, your social category and your age, chances are that you read between four and twelve books per year.
I have an idea about the type of book you read as well. Depending on the same factors, something tells me you’ve either read fiction books (because they are fun and give you an easy way to escape) OR non-fiction and educative books (because you have deeper motives).
So, where do you stand? How many books have you read this year? What type of books were these? In this food for thought article, I am exploring our reading habits with one main question in mind: what do you have to gain in changing them a little bit? Reading habits are way more impactful than you think, you’d be surprised!
The typical, average reader doesn’t read a lot.
First things first, according to the quick research I’ve conducted, I would say that the typical, average reader doesn’t read a lot. Now, of course, the problem is to define what we mean by “a lot”. Still, you get my point.
The numbers are very disparate when you look around. Some articles out there suggest that the average American only reads one single book per year. Somewhere, I even read that, “even worse: 60% percent of the people in the States who pick up a book never even get past the first chapter”.
Well. I don’t know about you but I don’t find that very reinsuring, to say the least.
Anyway, I have no idea where the data comes from but I wasn’t really inclined to take them for granted. So I’ve looked for more. The good news is, I’ve found more statistics which seem far more reasonable. So here we go.
The typical American reads up to five books a year.
According to the Pew Research Center (which funds a variety of studies on a variety of topics), the reading habits of the average American looks much better than what I read before.
Take their study for 2014, for instance. It suggests that seventy-six percent of adults have read at least one book over the year.
When looking at the readership’s fragmentation, however, the study concludes that while “the typical American adult read or listened up to 5 books […] the average for all adults was 12 books”.
For the year 2015, the numbers looked similar: twelve books for the year on average, against four books for the typical adult.
The same numbers are also in the 2018 report, which concluded that “each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011, when the Center first began conducting the surveys”. (Note: to see for yourself, here come the links to the studies for 2014, 2015 and 2018).
Not that straightforward.
Something is worth nothing though: for 2015 and the years after, the report does not talk about the “typical” adult anymore, but about a “median” number.
Now, what does that mean?
Well, in plain English, it means that if we speak in terms of volume the number of people who read less than four books is the same as the number of people who read much more.
So fifty percent of the readers are happy with four books a year, tops, while the remainder of the participants appeared to read much more.
The proportion of heavy readers, however, will be very slim compared to the fifty percent who only read four books a year.
Reading habits in short?
Long stuff short? Some read much more than others and raise the average to twelve books a year, but the typical adult read or listened up to four or five books over the year.
Meanwhile, and as I highlighted in red on the graph, twenty-six percent of adults have not read any books over the past year!
Sociological factors impact our reading habits.
Is that all, then? No, there’s more to say.
In fact, sociological factors have a big role to play when it comes to figuring out who reads and who doesn’t. I’ve borrowed another graph from the Pew Research Center here, and I have highlighted a few things so you can see for yourself.
Here is the big picture. For starters, there is a ten point difference in the reading habits of men and women.
The biggest gap isn’t there, however. What really conditions our reading habits rather seems to be our education and remuneration levels.
Unsurprisingly, only thirty-four percent of the least educated have read a book in 2015, against ninety percent of those with a college degree. Talking about finances, however, sixty percent of those earning less than $30.000 have read a book last year, against eighty-six percent of those earning more than $75.000 per year.
There’s the issue of time, too.
So, sociological factors have a role to play in shaping your reading habits, but that’s not it. There are other reasons to take into consideration.
Including the lack of time.
Reading takes time!
I was wondering about people’s average reading abilities and I found some food for thought. If you look around, you’ll see that the average adult tends to read around three hundred words per minute.
I think is total BS (more on that later), but the idea here is to say that if a book is on average 65k to 70k words, then that’s at least four hours of reading for a book.
When you have a job, a boss, kids, and a parrot named Jimmy (after Jimmy Hendrix, of course) to feed, it is easy to see why you might not have time for books. Especially when you have a lot of Netflix stuff to catch up with at night.
Except that’s kinda BS…
The thing is, your job, your boss, your kids, Jimmy parrot and your TV addiction are bad excuses.
I’m sorry to say this, but no time to open a book is kinda BS.
You could easily replace one episode of Games of Thrones every evening with a few pages, right? Oh, and a few more pages in the train when you go to work (and back home!). An audiobook when you go for a run or even when you cook!
Motivation, motivation, motivation.
In short, your reading habits depend on a motivation element. But the thing is, most people simply just aren’t aware of it.
The reason why I’m saying this is that – as the graphs show – some people do take the time to read.
Perhaps that’s due to their education or to their salary level. Still, they take the time to do it. So why couldn’t you do the same?
So why do the wealthy and the most educated read more?
Right, so why do the very wealthy and the most educated appear to read more, then?
In my opinion, the answer is extremely straightforward. As I keep repeating on I’ll Make You Think Smart, while acquiring new skills requires a lot of time books are a cheap and easy way to educate yourself and learn new stuff.
And these people know it!
Ever heard of the 10k hours rule?
The easiest way to explain why books are an easy way to learn new skills and ways of thinking is the 10.000 hours rule – explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success (2008).
The rule goes as follows: expertise only comes with the time we’re ready to invest to acquire it. For Gladwell, that’s something like 10.000 hours.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Ten thousand hours is a very long time that you just don’t have. So, unlike the rich people out there you just can’t afford to take an hour every day to have a nice reading time. Some people have to work, right?
You are missing the key element here.
The point isn’t to say that rich guys read more because they have time and money. No, no…
For starters, they might have more money than you, but time is most likely something they don’t have in quantity.
The point isn’t that they can afford to read when you can’t! The difference between successful people who read a lot and those who don’t read is very simple. The successful ones have understood a series of very important things that most people give up for the sake of feeding Jimmy Parrot while looking yet another episode of Game of Thrones.
Re-think your reading habits!
The bottom line is, our reading habits are just that, our reading habits. Finding the time to take a book isn’t always obvious for everyone, I agree. But blaming it on Jimmy Parrot and the kids is BS, I think.
So, let me ask my question of the day again: how many books have you read this year? Reconsider your reading habits, the impact could be much more significant than you think!
Oh! and please let me know about your own reading habits in the comments box down the page!