Did you find yourself turning to more reading in the second half of 2020, bored with — or motivated by — the options available to you through the pandemic? You’re not alone. The just-released annual American Time Use study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we collectively read close to 25% more than usual from May to December.
Americans age 15 and older increased their daily reading average from 17 minutes per day in 2019 to 20 minutes per day in the same time frame in 2020. Two demographics, those between the ages of 20 and 34 and those over age 65, increased their daily reading average the most. Those older than 75 had the largest time increases in reading last year, clocking in at an average of 57 minutes a day.
Black Americans increased their average reading time by a whopping 124%, to about 14.5 minutes per day. White Americans averaged 22 minutes a day, which was an increase of 19%, the same percentage that reading by Asian Americans increased. That group averaged 15 minutes a day. Interestingly, Hispanic and Latinx Americans remained at the same average as in the prior year at about 6 minutes a day.
Given the jobs most likely to have moved virtually, as well as the responsibilities many took on as full-time caretakers or educators, these numbers aren’t necessarily surprising. This pans out in the look at class and reading: those who were in the lowest 25% economically saw their daily reading average drop by 27% and those who had a high school diploma or less in education dropped their average by 42% to about 7 minutes each day. Upper middle class people had the most significant increase in reading time averages, up 131% to about 22 minutes a day.
Those who identify as male and as female both increased their reading time averages daily, with men averaging a 30% increase to 18 minutes a day and women an increase of 18% to 23 minutes a day. It’s possible the change in commuting played a role, as does the responsibilities for teaching and care taking. For both, there was an increase in time spent reading to children, per the survey, over 2019. The American Time Use Survey also noted that the percentage of people working from home during this time rose by 42% and travel times — both for commutes and for activities such as grocery shopping — decreased as well.
These results correspond with what Book Riot readers said about their reading habits during the pandemic. Nearly 60% of respondents noted an increase in reading time.
Will these averages remain the same when the survey comes out next year? It’s hard to say, but given the uncertainty of the future, the ever-shifting mandates and regulations around in-person and virtual work and events, and continuous changes in child care and other care taking responsibilities on adults, it is certain that we’ll see the ways in which reading plays a role in helping people find leisure, find knowledge, and find escape.