Reading is not always a pleasurable activity for young people, it seems. Many do it out of obligation rather than out of genuine love for the written word. And this decline in reading for pleasure appears not to be unrelated to the rise of the internet and social media.
All surveys appear to confirm that young people are turning away from reading. The latest annual report from Renaissance Learning is no exception. Its authors observed the reading habits of more than one million British and Irish schoolchildren. They found that they read 21.9 million books in the 2020-2021 school year. While this figure is up 11% from Renaissance Learning's previous study, the organization found that "leisure" reading is in steep decline among young people. It even reached an all-time low in early 2020.
The National Literacy Trust came to a similar conclusion after surveying more than 42,500 British children and teenagers. Only 48% of the young people surveyed said they enjoyed reading in 2020. Four years earlier, 58.6% of them had a real taste for reading. This decline can be explained in particular by the predominant place that screens now occupy in the daily lives of young people.
The pandemic has also had an effect. Periods of lockdown and school closures led many children and teenagers to immerse themselves in the joys of reading . In May 2020, 38% of children and teenagers read books every day in their free time. Only 30% did the same the following year. Many explain that they turned away from reading due to lack of time and motivation when school resumed in real life. "I used to read two books a week but now I have read three books in the last five months," said one respondent in the Renaissance Learning study.
This decline in reading for pleasure among children and teenagers is not a trend that's unique to the UK. In March, an Ipsos study for France's Centre National du Livre highlighted a similar change in the cultural practices of French people aged 7 to 25. On average, they spend eight times more time per week in front of a screen than they do reading a book for pleasure. Many turn away from reading after the age of 12 and the start of secondary school, "with an even greater drop in boys than in girls: 68% of boys read for leisure at the age of 13-15, compared to 81% of girls at the same age," the study notes.
But the declining importance of books in the lives of young people is not a death sentence for reading. Many young people still read as part of their leisure time, to escape, to dream or to pass the time. As such, books aren't going anywhere anytime soon.