How Many Books Does the Average Person Read?

The following post is from our editor Paul W. Ryan’s author website. Should you wish to read the original, or check out his work, he can be found at paulwryanauthor.com

How Many Books Does the Average Person Read?

William Gladstone once claimed 22,000 – can that be true? Back in 2009, a pensioner became Britain’s most avid reader after borrowing 25,000 library books. Unfortunately, the average person isn’t reading as much as they used to. Certainly, the era when one person could read every book ever written is long gone – it’s sometimes said that Milton was the last man to do that.

Roman philosopher Seneca once lamented that the world had too much to read. It seems Romans dealt with data overload long before we ever did as a society. Now with the digital age allowing anybody with a laptop to self-publish a book, we live in an age where it is simply impossible to read every book out there.

So – how many books will you average over the course of your lifetime? 

I would consider myself a slightly voracious reader. I read about one book every two/three weeks. So what does that work out to? Let’s be generous and say an average of 26-30 books per year.

I’ve been doing this since my teens, so say for sake of argument for over 10 years now, which would make it about 260-300 books. Give or take.

If I live to be 100 and keep up the same pace, it will be about 2600 ­– 3000 books. Not too shabby.

Now, let’s look at the current book market. According to UNESCO, 2,200,000 books were published worldwide last year. Let that sink in for a moment. Now, presumably, we’ll want to play the numbers game a little more. Let’s just look at books written in English. Depending on the sources you want to trust, these range from 600,000 to 1,000,000 per year. Yikes.

What does this mean for authors? 

Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Stats from PewResearchCentre found, among all Americans, the average (mean) number of books read in the previous year was 12 and the median (midpoint) number of books read was four. Some 27% of adults said they hadn’t read any books over the past year, while 1% said they did not know or refused to answer.

Both the mean and median book-reading figures have fluctuated over the years, and there is no indication that the intensity of book reading over the years has permanently shifted in one direction or another, according to the Pew Research surveys and similar polls by Gallup.

In the most recent survey, those most likely to be book readers included women; young adults (those ages 18-29); those with higher levels of education and higher household income; and whites. These patterns largely hold for overall book reading and for the different reading platforms – printed books and e-books.

The average woman read 14 books in the past 12 months, compared with the nine books read by the average man, a statistically significant difference. The median number of books read by women was five, compared with a median of three for men, which was not statistically significant.

Those with higher levels of education were more likely to have read multiple books than those with high school diplomas or less. The typical college graduate or someone with an advanced degree read an average of 17 books in the previous year, compared with nine for high school grads and three for those who did not graduate from high school.

“Despite the ever-growing number of movies, apps, and kitten videos, we still find time to read. Not only that, but despite all of these things competing for our attention, we’re reading just as much as before.”

What do you think? Are we still reading more or less the same amount? How many books will you read in your lifetime? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • The typical college graduate or someone with an advanced degree read an average of 17 books in the previous year, compared with nine for high school grads and three for those who did not graduate from high school.

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