This week in the department of counterintuitive findings: Americans under 30 read more books than Americans over 30. Pew recently released a study on American reading habits and attitudes toward public libraries and this fact popped out, via the LA Times:
According to the report, 88% of Americans 16 to 29 years old have read at least one book in the past year, compared with 79% of people 30 and older.And millennials who read aren’t just picking up one book. “Among younger Americans who did read at least one book, the median or typical number read in the past year was 10,” the report adds.
Of course, that data doesn’t delve into what kinds of books Americans under thirty are reading, and the over-30 crowd may have more demands on their time (like children) than younger readers. Furthermore, the questions don’t appear to have asked specifically about pleasure reading, so schoolwork could account for a lot of the difference. It would also be interesting to see the responses broken down by class, as affluent parents appear to be very successful at limiting their children’s technology consumption while encouraging book-reading.But other studies more narrowly targeted have reached similar conclusions: for example, that adults born between 1979 and 1989 (slightly older than the Pew slice, mostly out of school) spent more money on books than older adults did even though they had less disposable income. Nevertheless, this study runs counter to the popular narrative that smartphones and digital consumption have given millennials a short attention span and an aversion to long-form essays and books. Generations are complex things that defy easy analysis, especially analysis inflected with either doom-and-gloom declinism or Panglossian optimism. Like most generations, millennials are probably neither the end of all that is good about America nor this country’s inevitable savior.