An infographic meme of “surprising reading facts” refuses to die even years after its own author admitted the statistics were bogus, and after polls have shown that reading is actually thriving in America.
The infographic, which was created by Robb Brewer in 2011, shares some shocking statistics about how much reading Americans are supposedly doing these days. It claims that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book in their lives, that 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy a single book last year, and that 70 percent of U.S. adults have not read a book in the past five years, among other figures.
The infographic continues to be shared wildly on Facebook and other social media sites, but there’s only one problem — it’s completely untrue.
Even Brewer, the author of the infographic, publicly admitted in 2012 that he couldn’t back up any of the statistics and asked people to stop sharing it.
“I think it’s safe to say the stats from the original graphic are questionable, and I am therefore recanting any and all connection to them.”
Brewer claims to have used statistics from a survey by an organization called the Jenkins Group, though the group itself says the statistics were incorrectly attributed to them. Brewer has never been able to provide any other source of the numbers he used in the infographic.
The questionable statistics seem to have originally come from a 2011 Mental Floss article, which claimed to have taken them from a Jenkins survey from 2003. Mental Floss has updated the original article saying they have no idea where the statistics came from, either.
“These statistics appear to be from a 2003 survey conducted by a company called The Jenkins Group. The stats have been mentioned in books, blog posts and newspaper articles, but we’ve been unable to uncover any explanation of the results. We’ve reached out to The Jenkins Group and will update this post as warranted.”
Internet Truth Debunked says that the infographic author may have made faulty assumptions about how statistics can be interpreted. For instance, they say the claim that 37 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives came from inverting the statistic that 62.3 percent of high school graduates had not read a book in the last 12 months. Obviously, there are problems with simply inverting the numbers — and 12 months is not the same as the rest of most people’s lives.
The infographic seems to strike a chord with many book lovers who keep sharing it, but the truth of the matter is that reading continues to be a well-loved pastime in America across all age groups.
Recent studies have actually shown that readership is up in the United States, with young people reading more than older people. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that “millennials are quite similar to their elders when it comes to the amount of book reading they do, but young adults are more likely to have read a book in the past 12 months.”
“Some 43% report reading a book—in any format—on a daily basis, a rate similar to older adults. Overall, 88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older.”
The poll found that adults in their late 20s (ages 25 to 29) are often more similar to members of older age groups than younger adults when it comes to reading. They are less likely than college-aged adults to have read a book in the past year, although they are more likely to keep up with the news.
Other studies have also shown that people are reading more in recent years, especially young people. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average daily time that children spend reading books for pleasure has been steadily increasing, according to McSweeney’s, and that screen time is not interfering with children’s reading time.
“It does not appear that time spent using screen media (TV, video games and computers) displaces time spent with print media,” the report said.
The report also found that not only are teenagers reading more books, they’re more likely to be involved in book-related communities and discussions online.
They further report that young people are the most literate of all age groups worldwide.
“Worldwide, young adults are the most literate demographic. According to a 2008 UNESCO report of literacy rates in 2000, 96.8 percent of young adults in North America, ages 15-24, are literate and in the world, 87.6 percent of the same age group (959 million kids) can read (worldwide, only 82.4 percent of adults—people older than fifteen—are literate).”
Brewer has since created a revised infographic about reading in the United States. While this one is not nearly as shocking, it is more accurate — though some of his numbers still don’t match up with current studies.
The infographic author updated his blog in 2016 and said he is still contacted often about whether people can share his original “surprising reading facts” infographic.
“As I state within this article, I no longer trust the data source, so I’m unwilling to perpetuate the myth,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the internet is not conducive to forgetting.”
[Featured Image by Roman Seliutin/Shutterstock]