Released: December 20, 2012

Reading Habits in Different Communities

Part 2: The General Reading Habits of Americans

By , and

General reading

In our December 2011 survey, we found that 78% of Americans ages 16 and older read a book in the previous year. There are differences among the communities in the overall portion of those who have read at least one book in the previous year: 80% of urban residents ages 16 and older have read a book in the past year; 80% of suburban residents have done so; and 71% of rural residents have done so.

Once our examination turns to the book readers in the population, there are not notable differences among urban, suburban, and rural residents when it comes to the volume of the reading they do.  Among those who do read books, on average, urban and suburban residents report they have read 17 books over the past 12 months and rural residents, on average, have read 19.

When grouped into categories of reading frequency, residents of urban, suburban, and rural communities are very similar.  Roughly three in 10 are light readers (one to five books in the past 12 months); another 25% to 31% are moderate readers (six to 20) and just about two in 10 are heavy readers (21 or more books) in the past 12 months.

Readers across communities show similar patterns in the types of books they have consumed in the past 12 months (print, e-book, audiobook) and their recent reading habits (whether they read yesterday and if so, what type of book they read).  Nine in 10 have read printed books over the past 12 months, two in 10 have read an e-book, and slightly more than one in 10 have listened to an audiobook.

In the December 2011 Reading Habits Survey, respondents were also asked if they had read a book the day prior to the interview, and if so, what format they had read.  Across communities, just under half report doing some kind of reading on the day before they were interviewed.  Of those who read “yesterday,” the vast majority (more than 80%) read a print book, 14%-17% listened to an audiobook and 5% or fewer read an e-book.  There are no significant differences across community type.

Why people read

The reasons people give for reading vary slightly across different types of communities.  Suburban residents are more likely than either urban or rural residents to read for pleasure and they are more likely than rural residents to read as part of research on specific topics.  Rural residents are the least likely to read in order to keep up with current events or for work or school, likely due to fewer rural residents being employed or in school than is the case in other communities.

The joy of reading

Across communities, readers are similar in what they like most about reading.  Residents of all three communities most often say they like the learning, knowledge, and information they get from reading, the escape, the entertainment, and the relaxation it provides.  A less commonly cited value of reading is the good mental exercise it provides. Notably, urban residents are more likely than rural residents to cite this as one of the things they like best about reading (5% vs. 2%).

Newspaper, magazine, and journal reading

While residents of urban, suburban and rural communities are similar in most of their reading habits with regard to daily newspapers, there are differences across communities in residents’ magazine/journal reading habits and in the frequency of reading either newspapers or magazines/journals on handheld devices such as a tablet computer, e-reader or cell phone.

Residents living in different types of communities are equally likely to report they read daily news or a newspaper regularly (57% urban, 60% suburban, 54% rural).  Moreover, among regular newspaper readers, residents across communities are equally likely to report they read a newspaper yesterday (76% urban, 75% suburban, 72% rural).

However, among regular newspaper readers, urban and suburban residents are more likely than rural residents to have read the newspaper in an electronic format (56% urban, 57% suburban vs. 45% rural). Again, this might at least partially result from the fact that rural residents — and their libraries — are somewhat less likely to have access to broadband.

The picture is slightly different for magazines and journal readership. Suburban residents are more likely than rural residents to read these publications regularly (52% vs. 44%).  Among regular readers of magazines and journals, there are no differences across community type in reading this type of publication yesterday but urban and suburban residents are more likely than rural residents to read magazines or journals in electronic format (36% urban, 33% suburban vs. 24% rural).