The theory among publishers that book sales rose last year because people were reading more has been borne out in part by a survey recently released by the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the American Time Use survey, reading among people 15 years old and up increased by 21% in the May-December period in 2020 over the same period in 2019. The data shows that reading of all kinds increased from just under 17 minutes per day in 2019 in the same timeframe to just over 20 minutes in the comparable period last year.
The biggest increase in daily reading came among 20 to 34 year-olds and in readers over 65. People older than 75 spent by far the most time reading last year (and every year for that matter), reading an average of 55 minutes per day in the 2020 May-December period.
Men increased their daily reading habit by 30%, to an average of 18 minutes per day, while the time women spent reading rose 18%, to about 23 minutes daily.
By race, the time devoted to reading by Black Americans soared, jumping 140% to 14 minutes per day according to the survey. Reading by white Americans increased 19%, to 22 minutes per day, while reading by Asian Americans increased by 19%, to 11 minutes daily. Reading by Hispanic and Latino Americans stayed flat at 6 minutes, the survey found.
Economic and educational divides presented a stark picture of who, exactly, had time to read last year. There was a significant drop in reading among those Americans with no high school diploma, with the daily average falling 42%, to 6.5 minutes per day. People with at least a bachelor's degree increased their reading time by 24%, to 31 minutes.
In addition, people who could be considered upper middle class—defined as those in the 50th to 75th percentile of weekly earnings—had the biggest increase in reading, jumping 131%, to over 22 minutes daily, the longest time spent reading among all groups. Daily reading fell 27% for those in the lowest 25th percentile. Time spent reading remained flat, at 12 minutes, for the wealthiest Americans.
Editor's note: The figures supplied by the government reflect portions of hours per day spend reading, not minutes. While the percent change between years remains correct, the number of minutes spent reading have been lowered.