Book Reading: Plain as Black & White

By Chris Hoenig


Photo by Shutterstock

There are no racial gaps between Blacks and whites when it comes to book reading. In fact, no matter what form the book comes in, Blacks are slightly more likely than whites and significantly more likely than Latinos to have read a book in the past year, according to a Pew Research study.

The study, which initially investigated the ownership and usage of e-readers, found that 76 percent of American adults have read a book in the past 12 months. More than a quarter (28 percent) had read it on an e-reader or tablet, while almost seven of every 10 adults (68 percent) had read a book in print and 14 percent listened to an audiobook.

Black adults led every category, with 81 percent of those surveyed having read a book in some form in the past year, more than whites (76 percent) and Latinos (67 percent). Three-quarters of Black Americans read a book in print, while 30 percent read one on an e-reader or tablet and nearly one out of every five (19 percent) listened to an audiobook. That compares to 71 percent of white adults who read a print book, 29 percent who read an e-book and 14 percent who listened to an audiobook.

Latinos were the least likely to have read a book in print (56 percent) or on an e-reader or tablet (16 percent), and tied with white adults (14 percent) in audiobook usage.

Black and white participants also read about the same amount, with whites reading an average of 13 books in the past year, compared to 12 books for Black adults. The average Latino adult read seven books.

The lack of racial gaps in book reading comes despite gaps in several demographic categories—including education and household income, where racial gaps are already known to exist—as well as racial gaps in the ownership of tablets and e-readers. “Given the correlations with income and education, I do agree that even the lack of differences between whites and Blacks is very interesting, especially since whites are more likely to own dedicated e-readers like Kindles or Nooks,” study author Kathryn Zickuhr told DiversityInc.

White adults were more likely to own tablets (41 percent vs. 34 percent) and dedicated e-readers (35 percent vs. 24 percent) than Black Americans. Latinos, however, were the most likely to own a tablet (45 percent) and least likely to own an e-reader (18 percent).

“Women are more likely than men to have read a book in the previous 12 months, and those with higher levels of income and education are more likely to have done so as well,” Zickuhr and co-author Lee Rainie wrote. “There were no significant differences by age group for rates of reading overall.”

Younger adults were more likely to have read on a tablet or e-reader than older adults, but still preferred print books to electronic editions. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of adults under age 30 read a book in print, while only 37 percent had read an electronic version and 15 percent listened to an audiobook.

Not a single breakout of any demographic in the study—including gender, age, race/ethnicity, income, education level and community type—was more likely to read on an electronic device than in print.

Generational, educational and income gaps, like racial gaps, existed in e-reader and tablet ownership. Americans under age 50 were most likely to own both types of devices, with ownership rates decreasing with age. College graduates were also more likely than those who had not completed college to own them, while those current and former college students owned tablets and e-readers at a higher rate than those who had not attended college. Likewise, as household income increased, so did the likelihood of owning an electronic reading device.

“E-reader owners are more likely to be white, between the ages of 30 and 64, and with at least some college experience,” the authors write. “Those with tablet computers are more likely to be younger (under age 50), with higher levels of education and from relatively well-off households—close to two-thirds (65 percent) of people living in households earning $75,000 or more annually now own a tablet.”

Gender gaps were virtually nonexistent in tablet ownership (43 percent of women vs. 42 percent of men) but did occur to some degree among those who have e-readers (33 percent of women, 29 percent of men).

Pew Research provided DiversityInc with detailed data that showed racial gaps in income and education did exist among study participants. Half of all Black participants and 54 percent of Latinos had not attended college, compared with just 39 percent of whites. Nearly three out of 10 white participants were college graduates, compared with 18 percent of Blacks and 17 percent of Latinos.

More than double the share of white adults in the study earned more than $75,000 in household income last year compared to Blacks (30 percent vs. 12 percent) and Latinos (11 percent). At the opposite end of the scale, nearly half of Blacks (47 percent) and 59 percent of Latinos earned less than $30,000, while just 30 percent of whites fit that category.

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