What avid readers do differently and why 80% of books are bought by women. (It’s not what you think.)

What avid readers do differently and why 80% of books are bought by women. (It’s not what you think.)

You’ve probably read the apocalyptic stats: 24% of Americans will not read a book this year. 42% of college grads never read another book after college.

It’s not as dire as all that.

According to Pew, the typical American read or listened to 5 books in the past year. The average for all adults was 12 books in the past year.

That means a small number of adults are reading a ton. We call them avid readers, and there are a few things they do differently.

Avid readers read more narrative. Their favorite genres are:

  1. Historical fiction
  2. Crime and mystery
  3. Food and wine
  4. Biography and autiobiography
  5. Popular fiction
  6. Literary fiction

See that third entry above? Avid readers read more cookbooks, which is indicative of the way they approach books in general: avid readers are used to looking at books as the go-to place for high quality info. When they want to find a new recipe an avid reader is much more likely to browse the cookbook section than food.com.

cook with a book instead

Avid readers are much more likely to visit a bookstore in the first place, compared to the 70% of adults who haven’t been in a bookstore in the past 5 years.

Avid readers are overwhelmingly female (88%). The largest age cohort is 25-44, and avid readers drop off with age. The typical avid reader is a 40-year-old female.

At first blush, this seems to correspond with purchasing data: it’s been well-documented that women purchase far more books than men: women make approximately 80% of all book purchases. (As Ian McEwan famously stated: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

That 80% figure is thrown around as evidence of the intellectual decline of the American male. But just because men purchase a mere 20% of the books, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re reading only 20% of the books.

Women are much more likely to make purchases for the household than men. That 80% figure includes women’s purchases for themselves, of course, but also for their kids, their partners, and for gifts. (My own household provides evidence of this phenomenon: all independent bookstore purchases, Amazon purchases, and library checkouts are made in my name alone.)

These stats about avid readers made me feel better about the state of my nation’s reading habits. Sometimes the stats are shocking, but reading is far from dead.

Are you an avid reader? Do you resonate with these stats?

p.s. This post was based on a presentation by The Reading Room at Book Expo America. Read more about my experience at Book Expo America here.

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83 comments

  1. Janet says:

    Just adding to the list of library users! My reading list outstrips my book budget (basically non-existent)so off to the library I go. At a bookstore, impulse buying can add up…at the library it just means a bigger pile of books to check out! 🙂

  2. Alison S. says:

    I perfectly fit their typical avid reader profile. Female, late 30s, etc, etc. 🙂 I used to read over 100 books a year, but having little kids cut that number in half. My husband fits the male portion, too. He loves to read current events and research articles, but the only books he (mostly) reads are audio books when we travel. He says law school cured him of wanting to read books.

  3. Betsy says:

    I am an avid reader, but I hardly ever purchase books or enter a bookstore. Yet, I only read physical books. I am a library girl.

  4. judy says:

    I’m a 66 yo avid reader, and have been ever since I learned to read. I don’t even remember NOT knowing how to read. I spent my summers as a child haunting the bookshelves of our local library. I read across the spectrum and always have at least 2-3 books going at once. Different genres of course!
    My favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning is visit my nearby book store.

  5. Anne says:

    I’m an avid reader by this definition, and I almost always get my books through the library system. I love interlibrary loan. The books I buy are checked out of the library multiple times or a supportive nod to a favorite writer/blogger/artist: Nesting Place, Young House Love, Gretchen Rubin, Austin Kleon, Susan Wise Bauer. Sometimes, I lose my mind a bit at a used book sale, but mostly, I don’t buy books. I *am* the main book buyer in the family though. I’ve encouraged my husband to read more, facilitate and encourage what the kids read, etc.

  6. Trude says:

    My boyfriend and I are in our early 30s and both avid readers, but what I’ve always found interesting is I can hardly get to sleep without reading fiction, and he’ll consume all of Google News, and we both have favorite blogs we keep up with. And we both consume primarily digitally these days – I only buy printed books by my favorite authors or books I loved reading so much (on my tablet) that I want a hard copy to re-read and lend to friends. 🙂

  7. Bonnie-Jean says:

    I love ‘reading’ cookbooks and for the first read I cannot skip ahead but have to read them page by page like I would a novel.
    I’d be interested in what constitutes an avid reader – is it the quantity one reads or does simply reading every day make you an avid reader? I read daily and am pleased with myself it I get 30 books read in a year. Maybe I need to start counting those cookbooks I read in my book count!

  8. Shauna says:

    Avid reader here! I read about 50 books per year (less than a lot of commenters, but a lot for a homeschooling mom with two young kids at home). I use the library a lot, and I’ve bought a lot of books at the library lately (they sell their discards for $0.50-$1.00!). Like others, I’m the primary buyer in the family. I’m in my late 30s and read classics (undergraduate degree was in English lit), literary fiction, nonfiction, memoir (especially spiritual), and some self-help. I’m typically reading three books at a time: a novel, a nonfiction, and a spiritual book. Fun post and comments!

  9. Leanne says:

    My Mom taught me to read when I was four years old and I have been an avid reader ever since. My favorite memory of childhood was riding my bike to the library and bringing home a stack of books in my bike basket and reading outside on a blanket or on my friend’s front porch (yes, she was a reader too). When my kids were young, we read a chapter in a book every night before bed. Now as an empty nester, even though I work full-time, I have two-three books going at once – one on my Kindle, and a non-fiction or fiction book. I read between 60 – 100 books per year. I use the library for most of my reading material and free Kindle books. I also support my hometown indie bookstore occasionally.

  10. B J Apsley says:

    I am an avid reader and have been all my life. Yesterday, I turned 58 and spent part of the day at my “happy place”, the bookstore! I read about 150 books a year, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. I’d read more but I work full time! I read probably about 80% fiction of all types and 20% nonfiction. I definitely check to see what’s at the library and only buy books when the library doesn’t have them. I have a nook tablet with a kindle app so I can buy books from Amazon and B & N and when I buy books I usually buy used ones. I haunt the library book sales twice a year and check out the used books on Amazon and Thriftbooks.com. The statistics you quoted are pretty spot on, but I, like others was surprised about the avid reader tapering off after her 40s. I do read cookbooks, I’ll check them out from the library or pull them from the stacks at B & N and look through them, but I spend a lot of time on the internet cooking blogs looking for recipes and get most of my recipes from them. Also love to watch food network when I have time. Love your blog!

  11. Marci says:

    I consider myself a very avid reader personally (and I’m famous amongst my friends for my borderline hoarding/obsession with children’s literature!). However, I have never once catalogued or counted the number of books I’ve read in a month or a year! Am I unique in this? I’m feeling insecure! 🙂

  12. Ronica says:

    Compared to many of the comments here I do not seem like an avid reader. But I am definitely a reader. I went through a slump for a few years when my children were babies. But once I got back into reading I couldn’t get enough. Still can’t. I currently have two Kindle books and one audiobook going. Oh, and two hard copy cookbooks. The kind that are for reading. And I’m waiting anxiously for a hard copy book to arrive in the mail. I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to reading. When I am really into a series I can read more than a book a week. But I end up neglecting other duties in the process. I’m happy to average a book or two a month.

  13. Joan says:

    I have been an avid reader since I learned to read. All the Bobbsey Twins,Nancy Drew, Beverly Gray,Judy Bolton books and others. Now I love historical novels and anything Amish. Also like reading magazines.
    Joan

  14. Jana says:

    I can’t imagine life without reading. I am so excited for my littles to be able to read chapter books in the next couple of years. I probably read 100+ books every year, and I’ve always got a stack from the library. I rarely buy new books – I use the library or buy used online from eBay and half.com. I also use paperbackswap.com quite a bit.

    I was raised in a house of readers. I even continued to consistently read novels/fiction throughout college – my roommates couldn’t understand why I would read for fun when I already had to read for classes. But I can’t understand why you wouldn’t read for enjoyment!?!? ?

  15. Marion says:

    Living in Brooklyn, I had to depend on the bookmobile that came to my elementary school once a week. I loved the HoneyBunch books and always bought the latest ones. Now I enjoy historical novels and American Girl stories.
    Marion

  16. Lynette says:

    Another avid reader here, along with my entire family. We are committed library users, and keep our village’s library’s circulation hopping! With seven children, we usually borrow between 70 and 100 books weekly. We have access to many books through our county’s larger library system, and request books online. The library often has a big rubbermaid tub sitting under the counter, just with our requested book holds. We also borrow many more electronic and audio books. Most years I read between 80 and 100 books, but this year my number has increased quite a bit, since I started listening to audio books while I do daily tasks, and often while driving. Also, we borrow all our library books on my one card. It makes keeping track of everything manageable.

  17. For awhile I’ve been thinking that the concern over the country’s reading habits is a little much. I loved this analysis of reading stats… this makes total sense.

    I also read an article once that talked about the definition of reading. Often when people are asked about their reading habits they’ll say that they don’t really read anymore, but that doesn’t make sense. Do they read the news, do they read magazines, do they read blogs? This article stated that people tend to think of reading as opening up a book. While I think that everyone should read fiction (sort of kidding), if they don’t read fiction but they’re still reading some of these other things, they’re still reading. I wish I still had the link to that article, because it definitely made me think. This post reminded me of it. 🙂

  18. Marilyn says:

    I love to read or reread the YA series and some children’s books and series. I am partial to Honey Bunch,The Bobbsey Twins[being a twin myself] Nancy Drew ,Beverly Grey , Judy Bolton, Four Little Blossoms etc. I love historical novels ,Amish themes and some biographies. I find the books by Bill O’Reilly, Killing Lincoln,etc. interesting to say the least. R.F. Delderfield is my favorite author,his books are about England years ago. There are so many more books I enjoy,too many to mention. Magazines are great reads,too.
    Marilyn

  19. Molly says:

    I consider myself an avid reader (age 41) but don’t hold with all the “norms” in the article. I don’t read cookbooks, though I do have a small collection and love to cook, and do check out a few different online recipe sites for ideas. I do tend to read novels as my pleasure reading, but I also plow through at least a few nonfiction books each year. As to the norm that I (the only female in the house) read more than the males around me, that sadly is very true when it comes to books. One of my stepsons will go to the library and bookstore with me so I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will become an avid reader.

  20. Robyn says:

    There are three adults and four children in our household. All three adults make book purchases regularily – for ourselves and for our kids. I *do* consider myself an avid reader and I work hard every day to make reading an important part of our day. We read together, alone, out loud and silently 🙂

    My husband had never before considered himself a reader. But lately he’s become extremely insterested in learning about things he can’t learn exclusively from conversation. He’s a very hands-on guy but his interest is quite specialized and he just can’t find enough experts to satisify him. I’m thrilled that he’s now purchasing books online – both for his sake and for the sake of our boys who see his excitement building as the delivery date approaches, and his enthusiasm as he devours the book, page by page each night!

  21. Anna says:

    I’m an avid reader, and a 40yr old female, so I would fit right in. 🙂 I read most of the genres listed as the most popular, except I don’t read many biography/autobiography books. And I read from other genres, too. I tend to be reading 5-6 different books at a time, so when someone asks me “What are you reading now?”- they’re in for a long explanation!

  22. I fit the profile in every way but one: I read hardly any of the listed genres, but favor classic literature, Christian theology, and children’s books. Otherwise, I’m the one who buys the books for everybody! And I fall neatly within that age range 🙂

  23. Nikki says:

    I am avid reader. I don’t read cookbooks and I read a lot horror and fantasy. I am also 45 years old and have no intention to stop reading.

  24. Helen says:

    When with friends recently someone said to the group,”which would you rather be doing- sleeping or eating?” Everyone had a choice, but when it came to me I said, “Reading!” over both those things. Historical fiction is my latest favorite genre- the best combination of a good story and a way to learn about the lives of others. I also love anything by Nathanial Philbrick or Candace Millard.

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