Riot Headline 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards Winners Announced
Essays

How Many Books Does the Average Person Read?

As a visitor to Book Riot, you certainly read a lot of books: more than an average person. Your TBR pile grows faster than you can read. Your friends know better than to accompany you to a bookstore if they have another engagement that day. You collect bookmarks, have bookshelves in every room, and judge everyone you meet by the books in their home.

But what about those average people? Not just what are average people reading, but how many books does the average person read?

Who is an Average Reader?

I’m going to handle this statistically rather than trying to paint a picture of who an average reader is. People are all over the place. My mom, for instance, maybe reads a book a year despite having retired from a large library system. It’s just not her thing. On the other end, I know at least a few people who manage to finish 200+ books each year. Reading is their primary hobby.

Reading habits also vary widely from country to country. Literacy is directly tied to poverty, so indigent countries have lower averages. Cultural differences also contribute to reading rates, causing differences between countries that are relatively equally affluent. So let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

U.S. Readers

The Pew Research Center conducts a lot of detailed research and statistical analysis in the United States of America. Their study published in 2016 found that 72% of Americans had read a book the preceding year, a number that rose to 75% in 2022. This increase is likely attributed to the pandemic and how much more time everyone was spending at home. That same 2016 publication showed that on average, Americans read 12 books a year.

I know, that number struck me as fairly low, but not entirely unexpected. However, that number doesn’t really tell the whole story. Remember that if 72% of people were reading at least one book a year in 2016, then 28% weren’t reading even one. And some people read hundreds. To really answer the question “how many books does the average person read?”, we need to look at the median instead of the average.

Statistically, averages are useful, but are heavily skewed by outliers. The median is the mathematical breaking point for a statistical group, with roughly half of all numbers sitting above or below it. The median for the 2016 study and the better indicator of the average reader in America is four. The average American reader reads four books each year. Feeling better about your TBR pile now, aren’t you?

Pew’s research also delves into what formats and genres people are reading, as well as how race, gender, education levels, and professions affect reading habits. Women tend to read more than men. White, non-Hispanic people read more than Black, non-Hispanic or Hispanic people. Higher education levels correlate to more reading. And CEOs read a lot, though I doubt they’re reading a lot of fiction. Print is still leading the way as the chosen method of reading, with ebook and audio trailing behind.

Readers Around the World

The reading public is much larger than the United States, of course. So what about the rest of the world? Lectupedia gathered data from reputable sources for 14 different countries, including the Pew data I referenced above, to give a small snapshot of reading across the globe.

Annual Average of Books Read by Country, Per Capita infographic
All numbers are averages, with commas read as decimal points.

The lowest numbers in their findings came from Argentina (1.6 books per year), Mexico (1.7 books per year), and Colombia (1.9 books per year). Commanding the lead is a tie between France and Canada, both with their people reading an average of 17 books per year. While medians are not provided in this dataset, which would better answer how many books does the average person read, the average generally has some correlation to the mean.

What Does All This Mean?

All of this fascinating data means we should probably be less judgmental when a friend boasts about finishing a dozen or two books in a year. It means we should do what we can to help literacy globally by volunteering for or donating money to organizations like Book Aid International and World Literacy Foundation.

And don’t feel bad about your TBR. Keep reading and collecting. You’re doing fine.