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Survey: Death of High Schoolers' Reading Habits Greatly Exaggerated


Concerns about the devastating impact of technology on young literary habits may be overblown: According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, high school students are reading and using public libraries as much as or more than older Americans are.

The report, released last week, is based on a phone survey of more than 6,000 Americans and focuses on three groups in particular: high school students (ages 16 and 17), college-aged adults (18 to 24), and older millennials (25 to 29). For comparison, Americans over the age of 30 were also included in the survey, though their results were not broken down into smaller age groups.

The results of the survey showed that 69 percent of high schoolers read books at least once a week, a rate comparable to that for other young Americans and higher than the rate for people over the age of 30. Sixteen and 17-year-olds also read more works of literature, with a median of eight books per year compared to only six for 18- to 29-year-olds and just five for those over 30. (When those who said that they didn't read any books in the last year are discounted, those numbers rise to 10 books per year for high school-aged students and seven per year for everyone else.)

High schoolers are also more likely to have visited or used a public library in the past year or to have their own library card than any other age group, and slightly more likely (91 percent versus 86-89 percent) to have used a library in their lifetime.

Why are teens reading more than older adults? Pew doesn't offer an explanation, but one possible reason is simply that they're required to do so for school. By the same token, a 2010 report by the National Endowment for the Arts that showed an increase in reading among young adults speculated that a recent emphasis on literary initiatives in schools and communities may be playing a role in changing reading behaviors.

When asked what library resources they value, 41 percent of high school students said that research resources were "very important" to them, placing that factor second only to "having a quiet, safe place" (42 percent). This suggests that teachers' assignments are pushing their students to public libraries, which often have more extensive resources than increasingly-underfunded school libraries.

Whether students are seeking out reading materials of their own volition or are required to do so by their teachers, it's clear that high school students aren't abandoning books wholesale in favor of technological distractions. That's something English teachers everywhere should be able to appreciate.

Image source: Pixabay

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