Study finds young adults reading less
December 13, 2007 6:32 PM
“When was the last time you picked up a book?”
That was the question the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) tried to answer in its new study on the reading habits of young people.
It found that, today, almost half of U.S. citizens age 18 to 24 do not read for leisure. Published last month, the study found that 48 percent of people in that age group said they do not read books outside of work or school, a rise of 7 percent from a decade ago. On average, they spend seven to 10 minutes per day reading, while spending over two hours watching television.
“The declines were steepest in young adults, accelerating at a greater rate than in the general population,” Sunil Lyengar, NEA’s director of research and analysis wrote in the report. “Americans were not only reading literature at a reduced rate. They were reading fewer books generally.”
The authors cited modern technologies as one of the main reasons why people read less. While technologies have made lives more efficient, they also create new ways for people to spend their time, such as playing video and computer games, surfing the Web, or listening to their iPods. Also, with this new efficiency, people tend to expect every other aspect of their lives to move at the same fast speed, which books and other reading materials don’t, according to the report.
“With reading, you have to slow down, to think and imagine. A book doesn’t do all the work,” said Amy Payne, a lecturer for SF State’s creative writing department. Television and video games have made young people used to seeing things as is, she said, unlike books where readers have to imagine the scenery and the characters.
“Most [young people] seem to take pleasure in other technologies to provide them with what they need,” said Bill Christmas, professor of English at SF State.
“It’s easy, it’s available, and you can make it part of a multitask existence,” he said of technologies such as MP3 players and cell phones. “’Who needs books?’ they might say.”
Some students agreed with this assessment.
“Technology plays a role in why people do not read,” said Daniel Mullikin, 21, a creative writing major at SF State. Although he said that he personally reads a lot, he can understand why young people don’t often read. “The digital media makes people not want to read, with iPods around,” said Mullikin.
Sofia Cortez, 22, agrees.
“The Internet and people being lazy has a lot to do with why people do not read in our generation,” said the child and adolescent development major. She said grabbing a book and reading it may seem like too much work for some students.
Katie Choy, 23, said the large amount of reading college students have to do at school may be why many of them don’t read for leisure.
“I read so much at school already, that at the end of the semester I am just burned out,” the psychology major said. “The last thing I want to do is read any more books.”
In the NEA study, the authors also concluded that the amount of reading people do can have a direct impact on other aspects of their lives.
People who read have more advantages when applying for a job, according to the study. Employers who participated in the survey said reading skills are a top deficiency in new employees. Around 63 percent of employers rated reading comprehension an important skill.
Readers who were surveyed also said reading skills can determine the type of jobs they can get. About 70 percent of below basic readers said their reading skills have limited their job opportunities, compared with only 4 percent of proficient readers.
In surveying employers, the study also found a direct correlation between reading and writing skills. Employers rated 47 percent of two-year college graduates and 28 percent of four-year college graduates as deficient in written communications.
To encourage reading, efforts are being made, often using what some consider ironic: technology.
Last month, online retailer Amazon.com introduced their new e-reader, Kindle. Dubbed the “iPod for reading” by some reviewers, the Kindle is the latest device in allowing people to read more conveniently by emulating an electronic book that can hold thousands of novels.
Google has also been working on its Google Books Library Project, creating a digital catalogue of books from library collections, so users can find out a lot about a book before they purchase it or check it out at a library. Books that are out of copyright may be viewed and downloaded in their entire version.
Kevin Conroy, 24, said he often listens to audio books on his iPod. “It’s just easier for me and I do not have to carry a book or even read, I can just listen,” the psychology major said. However, some say reading has to start at home.
Payne recommends that parents start reading to their child as early as possible. “Once you get past a certain age, it’s hard to make you want to read,” said Payne. “The parent or caretaker has to open that world.”
When asked how he would encourage students to read, Christmas said he would advise students to “take literature classes. And check their nano devices at the door.”
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