Summary of Findings
Reading is foundational to learning and the information acquisition upon which people make decisions. For centuries, the capacity to read has been a benchmark of literacy and involvement in community life. In the 21st Century, across all types of U.S. communities, reading is a common activity that is pursued in myriad ways.
As technology and the digital world expand and offer new types of reading opportunities, residents of urban, suburban, and rural communities at times experience reading and e-reading differently. In the most meaningful ways, these differences are associated with the demographic composition of different kinds of communities — the age of the population, their overall level of educational attainment, and the general level of household income.1
Several surveys by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reveal interesting variations among communities in the way their residents read and use reading-related technology and institutions:
Book readers: Some 78% of Americans ages 16 and older say they read a book in the past 12 months. Urban (80%) and suburban (80%) residents are especially likely to have read at least one book in the past year. While rural residents are somewhat less likely to have read a book in the past year (71%), the book readers in rural areas read as many books as their counterparts in cities and suburbs.
Purposes for reading: Most of those ages 16 and older read books for pleasure, and that is especially true of suburban readers: 82% of suburbanites read for pleasure, compared with 79% of urban residents and 76% of rural residents. Urban residents (80%) and suburban dwellers (79%) are also especially likely to read to keep up with current events. Some 73% of rural residents do that. More than three-quarters of suburban residents (77%) read to research topics that interest them, compared with 74% of urban residents and 70% of rural residents. Finally, 57% of suburbanites and 58% of city dwellersread for school or work, compared with 47% of rural residents who do that.
Americans and libraries: The majority of Americans ages 16 and older (58%) have a library card and even more (69%) say the library is important to them and their families. Some 71% of city dwellers say the library is important to them and 59% have library cards — and 69% of suburban residents say the library is important and 61% have library cards. At the same time, 62% of rural residents say the library is important and 48% have library cards.
Book recommendations: Family and friends are the primary source of book discovery for Americans 16 and older, especially so for suburban (66%) and urban residents (66%). Some 60% of rural residents say they get book recommendations from family and friends. Similarly, city dwellers (25%) and suburbanites (24%) are more likely than rural residents (18%) to have gotten recommendations from book stores they visit. Residents of all three kinds of communities are equally likely to say librarians and library websites are sources of book recommendations.
Newspaper and journal readers: Some 58% of those ages 16 and older say they regularly read newspapers. There are not noteworthy differences across communities in the numbers of people who regularly read newspapers. But suburban residents (57%) and urban dwellers (56%) are more likely to say they at times read their newspapers on handheld devices than rural residents (45%). When it comes to magazines and journals, 52% of the suburbanites ages 16 and older say they read them regularly, compared with 47% of urban dwellers and 44% of rural residents. Among those who read magazines and journals, 36% of urban readers and 33% of suburban readers read their magazines and journals at times on handheld devices. That compares with 24% of rural readers who read magazines and journals that way.
Preferences for e-books vs. print books: Some 14% of readers read an e-book and a printed book in the past year. Those book readers in dual platforms were asked which type of book is better for different reading activities such as sharing books with others, reading in bed, reading with a child, or reading while traveling. Generally, urban readers in both formats are more likely to prefer e-books for many reading activities, while rural readers who have read in both formats tend to prefer print.
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