Released: December 20, 2012

Reading Habits in Different Communities

Part 7:  Differences Between Heavy, Light, and Non-book readers Across Community Type

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In The Rise of E-Reading report we noted that the distribution between heavy and light readers is relatively even.  Among those ages 16 and older who had read a book in the past 12 months:

As part of the analysis of overall reading habits for that report, readers were divided into three categories of reading frequency: light readers (1-5 books in the past 12 months) comprised 31% of the total population 16 and older; moderate readers (6-20 books) comprised 29% of that population; heavy readers (21 or more books) comprised 17%. The analysis found that heavy readers were more likely to be women, white, and have higher education levels.  Medium and heavy readers were also more likely to own e-book readers and were more likely to read for pleasure.

Frequent vs. less frequent readers: Looking across community types

For this analysis, we look at how these different types of readers differ across community types; specifically, whether heavy readers in one size community (urban, suburban, rural) differ in their reading attitudes or behaviors from heavy readers in the other community types.

Among readers, the amount of book reading that people do does not differ by community type — about three in 10 residents living in each type of community are light readers, another three in 10 are moderate readers, and about two in 10 are heavy readers.

The analysis of different level readers across community type reveals some differences in overall reading habits and in attitudes and behaviors related to the local public library, but few differences in e-reading related behaviors or attitudes.

In overall reading habits, heavy readers in urban and suburban communities are involved in reading for the acquisition of information and knowledge more so than heavy readers in rural areas.  For instance, heavy readers in urban and suburban areas are more likely than those in rural areas to read for work or school (62% urban, 63% suburban vs. 48% rural) and those in urban areas are more likely than rural heavy readers to indicate that the learning, information, and knowledge they get from reading is what they like best about the activity (33% vs. 18%).

Moderate and light readers show some differences across community type in regard to where they get reading recommendations. Moderate readers in rural areas are more likely than other moderate readers to get reading recommendations from a librarian or library website (33% rural vs. 21% urban, 20% suburban) while moderate urban readers are more likely than moderate rural readers to get recommendations from the staff at a bookstore (34% vs. 22%). Light suburban readers are more likely than light rural readers to get recommendations from family, friends, or co-workers (68% vs. 56%).

Overall results by community type reported earlier revealed that suburban residents are more likely than others to be regular magazine or journal readers, and that among regular readers of these publications, urban and suburban residents are more likely than rural residents to read them in electronic format.

Further analysis that examines different levels of intensity of reading in communities shows that even light suburban readers are more likely than light rural readers to regularly read magazines or journals (47% vs.35%) and moderate suburban readers are more likely than moderate urban readers to read magazines and journals regularly (64% vs. 50%). Among those who regularly read newspapers or magazine/journals, heavy urban and suburban readers are more likely than heavy rural readers to have read a newspaper (61% urban, 66% suburban vs. 38% rural) or a magazine/journal (44% urban, 40% suburban vs. 21% rural) in electronic format.

Many aspects of ownership and use of e-reading devices, as well as attitudes and behaviors related to e-reading, are similar across heavy and light readers in different types of communities. However, light urban readers are more likely than light suburban readers to say that the availability of e-content has made them read more than in the past (39% vs. 23%) and heavy urban readers are more likely than heavy rural readers to be considering purchasing an e-reader (24% vs. 9%).

Those who report a similar level of reading frequency differ across community types in their stated preference for print or e-books for various reading activities. Heavy urban readers are more likely than their rural counterparts to prefer e-books most of the time (50% vs. 22%).11 For the specific reading activity of “sharing with others,” moderate and heavy urban readers are more likely than rural moderate and heavy readers to prefer e-books over printed books (31% vs. 5% moderate readers and 31% vs. 12% for heavy readers). Moderate suburban readers are more likely than moderate urban readers to prefer print over e-books when they want to obtain a book quickly (11% vs. 3%).

Attitudes toward and use of the local public library differ across heavy readers in different types of communities.  Heavy suburban readers are more likely than heavy urban readers to have a library card (82% vs. 68%), as are light urban and suburban readers when compared with light rural readers (58% urban, 56% suburban vs. 41% rural). On a general measure of library use, heavy suburban readers are more likely than heavy urban readers to have used the library at all in the past 12 months (84% vs. 65%) and specifically to have borrowed books (70% vs. 58%). Heavy suburban readers are more likely than heavy rural readers to say their library loans e-books (37% vs. 18%).

Non-book readers

The Rise of E-Reading report also included a profile of non-book readers (18% of the population ages 16 or older) which showed that overall, non-book readers are more likely to be male than female (23% vs. 14%), Hispanic rather than white or black (28% vs. 17% and 16%), ages 65 or older (27%), lacking a high school diploma (34%), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26%), unemployed (22%), and residents of rural areas (25%).

While those living in rural areas are more likely than those in other communities to be non-book readers, a closer look at non-book readers across community type shows many similar patterns of reading-related behavior and attitudes.

There are few statistically significant differences between non-book readers from these different types of communities and the differences that do emerge generally coincide with overall patterns of community differences.  For example, the overall differences between rural residents and those in suburban and urban communities regarding attitudes toward and use of the local public library do not change when looking at non-book readers across community type.

Interest in participating in library classes on e-reading related topics is stronger among urban non-book readers than suburban or rural non-book readers.  Non-book readers in suburban and rural areas are more likely than urban non-book readers to say they are not likely to take library classes on downloading e-content (79% suburban, 81% rural,  vs. 57% urban) or use e-readers already loaded with content (72% suburban, 81% rural,  vs. 59% urban) and non-book readers in rural areas are more likely than non-book readers in urban or suburban areas to say they are not likely to take classes in how to use e-readers (86% rural vs. 63% urban, 74% suburban).

In addition, comparing non-book readers and readers across community type shows that urban and suburban non-book readers are more likely than moderate and heavy readers in those communities to have a physical or health condition that makes reading difficult. Rural non-book readers are not more likely than rural readers to cite physical reasons suggesting that the reasons for non-reading may differ across communities.

  1. 'Most of the time' is a summary measure that indicates a preference for one or the other type of book 4 or more times when asked about six different reading activities - reading with a child, reading in bed, sharing books with others, having a wide selection of books to choose from, reading while traveling or commuting, being able to get a book quickly.