Decline in Reading in the U.S.
Since 1992, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessed students' reading ability in the United States. The most recent assessment was completed in 2007 and showed that reading scores were higher in 2007 than in 1992 for grades 4 and 8. However, NCES reported that the average reading score for high school students was similar in 2004 compared to 1971. Still, these national studies provide little evidence that reading scores are declining.
In 2004, the NEA conducted its largest study of literature participation, including surveys of over 17,000 individuals. The results were published in the report "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America". Among the respondents, 47 percent reported having read literature in the previous year, a decline of 7 percent from 1992. The NEA's study also found that literature participation is lowest among young adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four. The decline in reading rates among young adults was 55 percent greater than that among the population as a whole.
A follow-up NEA report to the 2004 Reading at Risk study found similar declines in reading by adults. However, critics of the follow-up study continue to argue that the NEA is exaggerating declines in reading assessment scores and discounting the type of reading young adults are actually doing (e.g., reading on the Internet) (Rich).
The 2004 NEA report also suggests that persons who read literature are 300 percent more likely to be involved in civic activities. Some analysts suggest that declining reading habits may also lead to a decline in democratic participation. Though some studies indicate an overall reduction in voting participation since the 1980s, there is insufficient evidence to correlate voting statistics with reading levels.
Some critics do not believe that reading has declined as much as is indicated by the NEA studies. These critics believe that researchers should also measure comic book, graphic novel, and Internet reading as legitimate substitutes for book reading. Though illustrated and online media are not currently classified as literature, some believe that young people who read illustrated and Internet sources are more likely to transition to other forms of literature.
It has been argued that the decline in reading is a result of a deteriorating educational system. Literacy advocates have suggested that teachers at the elementary, secondary and higher education levels should place a renewed emphasis on reading and evaluating literature. In addition, some analysts have pointed out that large portions of the world's children do not have sufficient access to books, which may negatively impact their inclination toward reading in adulthood.