Literacy Rates Part 2

Adult Reading Habits and Their Effect on Children’s Literacy

happy couple on a date

In the first part of our Falling Literacy Series, we focused on how the reading levels of children had started decreasing in the past few decades before the pandemic. Those levels then decreased even more after the pandemic lockdowns. This is not only in America, but a worldwide phenomenon. More on that later.

As we discussed before, literacy rates can also be defined as the amount of time that people actually spend reading. We will go into that in more detail here. 

We focused mainly on children in Part 1 of Falling Literacy Rates. In Part 2, we will turn our attention to adults and how the number of books they’ve been reading has also decreased over the past few decades. 

Finally, we will answer a burning question you probably have as a concerned parent:

“How the heck can I keep my child’s reading level high?”

Each topic discussed here will be further expanded upon in other articles that will be linked here when they are published. Make sure to sign up for notifications from One-Room Education below so you don’t miss any of that future content! 

First, what is going on with the adults nowadays?

Adults Are Reading Fewer Books than in the Past

According to a Gallup poll taken early this year, Americans read an average of about 12.6 books in 2021. 

That’s a good amount of reading, roughly one book a month. However, Americans are reading two or three fewer books than they did between 2001 and 2016.

Furthermore, 27% of the people surveyed said that they read more than 10 books a year. Gallup says that this number is:

“down eight percentage points since 2016 and lower than every prior measure by at least four points.”

What is also disheartening is that Gallup later says:

The changes are especially pronounced among the most voracious book readers, namely, college graduates, women, and older Americans.


This means that people who usually love to read books are reading fewer of them.

Now, I should say that I was impressed by these numbers when I first saw them. 12 books a year is a pretty decent number, especially considering that I rarely ever see people reading actual books. 

black tablet computer behind books

Sure people read texts, tweets, and the occasional news article, but when was the last time you saw someone with a physical book in their hands? Even an e-book device like a Kindle? (Admittedly, they are pretty convenient. I have one.)

What is interesting is that according to this article by the Literary Hub, the publishing industry is doing very well! 825 million print books were sold in 2021, up 8.9% from 2020 at nearly 758 million. 

So more people are buying books, but the people who usually read books are reading fewer of them. 

What is going on here?

One possible explanation is that the poll did not discriminate between print and digital mediums. So a “book” included print books, e-books, and audiobooks. Audiobooks themselves have definitely become more popular in recent years.

The article further suggests that “entertainment overload” is another reason for the decline in readers. The act of reading has to now compete with other forms of media such as video games, movies, Youtube, and television.

This section dealt with fewer people reading, but please keep in mind that “literacy rates” also include one’s ability to read and write, and according to several sources, this has also become a worldwide issue.

Falling Literacy Rates Are a Worldwide Phenomenon

According to UNESCO, 20% of young people and 30% of adults in poor countries will still be illiterate by 2030 if current trends continue.

There are 152 million children in the world who are still illiterate, and that number is likely to become worse because many of them are not currently attending school.


An article from McKinsey & Company says that between March of 2020 and February 2021, Latin America and South Asia had the longest length of school closures due to the pandemic and lockdowns: 75 weeks or more. High-income areas of Europe and Central Asia had the shortest school closure time of 30 weeks (which is still a very long time in my humble opinion). Low-income Sub-Saharan Africa averaged 34 weeks of school closures.

a child reading quran during ramzan

The worst news is that students around the world are roughly eight months behind where they would have been without the pandemic lockdowns. This has led to things like chronic dropouts, domestic abuse against children, and mental health problems.

It is worth noting, however, that according to this article, the global literacy rate rose to 84 percent in 2010, and UNESCO projects that 90% of adults will be literate by 2030.

This is incredibly hopeful news to me personally. It shows that despite the vast number of problems plaguing our countries and governments, they at least got their act together enough to  give the large majority of the world population the ability to read. 

The article goes on to say that literacy is needed for very important things like signing important documents, filling out job applications and reading medication labels. Therefore, the United Nations has tied life expectancy to a person’s ability to read.

We will discuss this further in a future article, but now we will talk briefly about what this entire series has been leading up to.

How to Keep Your Child’s Reading Levels High

You might be wondering, why go through the trouble of all of this writing and research? What was the point?

The point was to make you, the parent, acutely aware of what is happening. I want you to start thinking about taking action. I want to light a fire under you.

I hope you have seen that reading is not only an important, but essential if you want your child to have a meaningful, productive life.

The good news is that there are some things that you, as the parent, can start doing today!

In all the research I have done, I have found that several steps can be taken to ensure that your child has a love of reading as an adult. We will discuss this more in future articles, but I wanted to touch upon some particularly important ones here. 

Model Good Reading Yourself

photo of a family reading a book together

Children will always copy what their parents do. They have no concept of what is a good or bad habit. If they always see their parents with their faces in a book, they’ll want to know what’s up with this whole “reading” thing eventually. 

It is very difficult, maybe even impossible, to convince a child to love reading when they don’t see their parents doing it. You should show them that reading can be a fun and enjoyable activity. I know when we were children we had to read books that were completely boring and poorly written. Your child might be subject to this as well, but we should not allow this to kill their potential love of books!

Build Your Child’s Natural Interest and Curiosity

This point is near and dear to me. Allow your child to read books that are interesting to them. I have taught English as a Second Language to adult students in the past and I always suggested that they read books to help them with their language learning. But I also suggest that they read books they actually enjoy!

The last part is very important. Nobody wants to read a book that they don’t find interesting, especially children. What is your child naturally interested in? What topic in particular sparks their curiosity? I know when you have a child, the things that interest them change from day to day. But I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s probably easier to convince them to read something they already want to read!

This concludes our Introduction to the Falling Literacy Rates Series. Our expanded articles on the topics presented here and in Part 1 will be dropping soon. Be sure to subscribe for notifications from One-Room Education below so you’ll be the first to see them!

More articles from this series:


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