The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) conducts a survey of American households every ten years and surveys 17,000 households,matched by the American Census Bureau to reflect the total American population. In 2006 the NEA reported that “reading has declined among every group of adult Americans: every age group, educational group, income group, region and race. In some cases the declines have been precipitous.
This has been going on for the last 20 years, but the trends are getting worse.” From On the Importance of Reading: http://www.csub.edu/ah/AH_matter/importanceofreading.pdf.
My own anecdotal observations support these findings. I have a pastor friend who told me once that he barely reads a book a year. But he’s not the only person I’ve heard make such a claim. Before I recommend a book or an article to individuals I now ask, “Do you read?” More often than not, people respond with a “No.”
Dana Gioia, Chair of the NEA, writes that “Something seems to happen with readers that does not happen with non-readers. I cannot scientifically prove that it’s causal, but I can scientifically prove with a wearisome amount of data that it is at the very least correlative.” From: http://www.csub.edu/ah/AH_matter/importanceofreading.pdf.
Here is what Gioia believes the data shows.
1. If you are a reader, you’re overwhelmingly more likely to engage in positive civic behavior versus non-readers.
2. If you read, you’re 300 percent more likely to go to the theater and museums, 200 percent more likely to go to the movies, and over twice–in some case three times–as likely to do volunteer work or charity work. There as some who argue that these rates of involvement are a function of income levels, and the wealthy are more likely you are to have education and thus read. However this has proven to not be true, according to Gioia. The poorest group of American readers does volunteer work and charity work at twice the level of the richest non-readers.
3. If you are a reader, you’re more likely to exercise, more likely to go to sports games, and more likely to be aware of and involved in your own community. There is a deep and arguably statistical connection between readers and civic involvement. Gioia argues that “The kind of communities that we want to live in are, by definition, communities of readers.”
In installment #3, the question will be “what happens to people who read?”