"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Our People are Not Reading Our Literature, Part III - 1982 and 2002 comparisons

Our People are Not Reading our Literature, Part III
Part III looks at the comparison of reading rates between 1982 and 2002
By Raymundo Eli Rojas 


For previous entries in this series:

 In part III of our series, Our People are Not Reading our Literature, we will look trends the Reading at Risk Survey found from 1982 to 2002. Read Part I and Part II.

One of the most dramatic changes was the demographic change the US has gone through since 1982. Not only immigration, but high birth-rates by Hispanics and African-Americans have contributed to this.

Minority population in the US grew 11 times more rapidly than Whites between 1980 and 2000 (US Census).

Another change that Reading At Risk point out is in the realm of technology. In 1982, computers were “relatively new” and the Internet was severely limited. Since then we've had the video game revolution as well as the growth of cable and satellite television.

Reading at Risk points out how as early as the 1980s, there were fears of society becoming “watchers” as opposed to “readers.”

Changes In Literature Participation

Since 1982, literary reading has not grown. Reading at Risk states that is “is the strong growth in the population that has allowed the overall number of people reading literature to remain stable at about 96 million between 1982 and 2002.”

Changes in Poetry Reading and Listening

One of the positive things that happened in the 1990s was the growth of live readings and poetry slams. Though the “slam” arena, has it critics especially in the academic creative writing circles, Reading at Risk says this “led some to speculate about the revitalization of poetry in America.” Nevertheless, the study says the revitalization is not apparent in the Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts (1982, 1992, 2002).

Despite population growth, “the number of people reading poetry or listening to poetry readings decreased from … 34 million in 1982 to just under 30 million in 2002” (a loss of 13 million people or 135 of the 1982 audience).

The percentage of poetry readers or listeners “decreased...from about 20 % of adults in 1982 and 1992 to 14% in 2002.”

Changes in Personal Creative Writing

As mentioned before, the number of people doing creative writing increased from 1982 to 2002. The amount is not substantial, but promising.

Changes in Writing Classes or Lessons

People who said they had taken a creative writing class or lesson decreased from 30 million in 1982 to 27 million in 2002. Also, “the percentage of people taking creative writing classes or lessons at some point in their lives also decreased, from 18 percent of in 1982 to 13 percent in 2002.”

Factors in Changes in Literature Participation

In the last 20 years, the US has gain higher levels of education. Saying this, it is easy to think that there should have been an increase in the literature's popularity since 1982. However, this is not the case.

There has been a widespread decline in literary reading rates. Rates decreased for “men, women, all ethnic and racial groups, all educational groups, and all age groups.” The decrease was more pronounced in men than in women. Men's reading rates dropped from 49 % to 37%. For females, the rate only dropped from 63% to 55%.


As mention in our other segments, Reading at Risk shows that the gap between men and women regarding reading rates grew between 1982 and 2002. The study shows that the reading rates of women in 1982 was 63 percent, which was 14 points higher than the rate of men, which was 49%.

However, when looking at the reading rate of women in 2002, it was 55% and that of men's was 38%.

Race and Ethnicity

Hispanics had the lowest reading rate, which was decrease since 1982. In 1982, “60% of Whites and 36% of Hispanics read literature." However, Reading at Risk states, “At the same time as the literary reading rate decreased very strongly among Hispanics, there was also a sharp increase in the Hispanic population.” 

Taking this factor into account, the number of Hispanics who read literature increased “by nearly 3 million between 1982 and 2002.” With this population increase, “the number of Hispanics reading literature increased by nearly 3 million between 1982 and 2002.” This increase is the largest increase “in the number of readers from any ethnic or racial group.”

White Americans represent 80% of literary readers in 2002 and Hispanics 6%.


Reading at Risk shows how the literary reading rate decreased significantly for people with all levels of education, 15 points or more on all levels except the lowest level.

Between 1982 and 2002, the “gap between the literary reading rates of college graduates and high school graduates remained large but stable.” In 1982, the difference in reading rates between college students (82%) and high school graduates (54%) was 28 percentage points.

Readers with a college degree or graduate education rose by 12 million. The the number of readers with some college education rose by 4 million. However, within readers who had just a high school education, the numbers of literary readers deceased by 9 million.

Age Groups

When looking at age, there was only one significant decrease in reading rates, and that was for those between 18 and 44 years of age. The decrease was about 20% between 1982 and 2002. The survey states, “Young adults are reading much less than they use to.” Reading at Risk notes getting teens to read is a significant problem:

  • a smaller percentage of 13- and 17-year-old read for fun daily in 1999 than in 1984
  • a smaller percentage of 17-year-olds saw adults reading int her home in 1999 than in 1984;
  • a greater percentage 17-year-olds were watching three more hours of television day in 1999 than in 1978.

But back to 18-34 year-olds, their reading rate in 1982. The study does note that population increases and aging contributed to people reading literature in all age groups 35 or older. So maybe from a marketing standpoint, booksellers should (or are) market their books to adults, 35 and older. The largest increase in reading rates come from those 45-54 with “significant decreases” within the age groups 18-24 and 25-34.

Looking at the same age group over time

Reading at Risk says it is important to look at “age cohorts over time.” For example, the:
  • reading rate of 25-34-year-olds in 1982 was 62 percent.”
  • this same group in 2002 were ages 45-54 and their reading rate was 52 percent

The study shows that age cohorts, all of them, have “seen decreases of about 10% points or more since 1982.”

Other Leisure Activities

It easy to blame dismal reading rates on television, however, the 1982, 1992, and 2002 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts “show that time spent watching TV has remained stable” at least for those 18 or holder.

  • 1982 average of 3 hours a day
  • 1992 average of 3 hours a day
  • 2002 average of 2.9 hours a day

As for movies, the “percentage of people going to at least one movie in a year decreased slightly over the past 20 years, from 63 percent in 1982 to 60 percent in 2002." As for home movies, the market was very small in 1982, but between 1982 and 2000 spending on home video equipment increased 62%. In comparison, “annual spending on reading increased only 4% from 1985 to 2000.”


This focus at comparison between 1982, 1992, and 2002 show reading has decreased, with significant decreased in men in comparison with women; significant decreases in all ethnic groups; significant decreases with all levels of educational attainment; and significant decreases for those under 45 years of age.

Poetry took a big hit between 1982 and 2002 with “fewer people reading poetry or listening to live poetry readings or recordings." Creative writing, however, did grow at a higher percentage from 1982 to 2002.

In short, reading is less popular than it use to be.

There have been a few studies out on Internet reading in the last two years, so we'll tackle those in our next segment.


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