The newest study by the National Endowment for the Arts on how much American adults participate with the arts found that general book reading in 2012 was even with levels in 2008, but that reading literature (defined as novels, short stories, plays and poetry) had declined.
According to the report, How a Nation Engages with Art, 46.9% of adults read at least one work of literature in 2012, down from 50.2% in 2008 and even with 2002. The level of literary reading in 2002 was estimated to have fallen from 54% in 1992 and prompted then NEA chairman Dana Gioia to create a number of initiatives to improve literary reading rates. The gains achieved by those programs, most notably the Big Read, between 2002 and 2008 were erased in the 2008-2012 period.
The reading of poetry suffered the most, dropping from an activity enjoyed by 8.3% of adult in 2008 to 6.7% in 2012; participation levels in reading novels and short plays fell to 45.1% compared to 47% in 2008. Reading of plays actually rose in the period, to 2.9% of adults from 2.6%. Men stopped reading literature at a faster rate than women, with the percentage of male adults who read one work of literature in the year falling to 36.9% from 41.9%. Women’s literary reading fell from 56.1% from 58.0%.
When the survey turned to all books however, participation inched up from 54.3% of adults to 54.5% in 2012 and the number of women who read a book rose from 61.7% to 63.6%. The reading rate of men fell moderately, to 44.7% from 46.3% in 2008.
The reading findings were included as part of the NEA's broader measurement of how American adults interact with art as gauged by the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.