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How Much Do Canadians Read?

A 2022 report from United for Literacy showed that 49 per cent of the adult population in Canada scored below the literacy levels expected of high school students. Seventeen per cent reportedly scored at the lowest level. Despite increasing rates of literacy globally, Canadians don’t typically spend their leisure time reading, which eventually reduces their overall capability to comprehend complex writing. 

While some might assume this is a failure of the education system, it is more of a matter of use it or lose it. Experts say the low rate has much to do with adults taking jobs that do not require daily reading comprehension skills. When adults don’t have to read regularly and don’t take it up as a hobby, reading and writing skills tend to decline with age.

For many, this issue may create obstacles. Filling out job applications, medical paperwork, reading the news or sending professional emails are regular parts of life that people with low literacy levels will struggle with. Overall, upwards of 80 per cent of Canadians are marginally literate, meaning they have enough skills to comprehend things they read on a daily basis as well as non-complex reading. For many Canadians, reading has no appeal, and many more will say they haven’t touched a book since they had to in high school. If there is a time when they can’t perform tasks that require writing skills, there are other options. 

The use of AI has come a long way when it comes to the creation of writing assistance tools. For many, this is a useful tool for writing up the necessary paperwork for job applications. With the increased access to AI writing technologies comes a perceived lack of necessity to have strong reading comprehension and writing skills. After all, why will people work at these skills to be proficient writers when resumes can be written up by typing keywords into an AI generator?

The rate of books sold in Canada 

In 2022, nearly 52 million books were sold in Canada, 68 per cent of which were fiction. As is commonly seen in markets is a high rate of purchase among a minority of the overall population, which typically rounds out at 80 per cent of the product being purchased by 20 per cent of the market. It is not a new phenomenon nor surprising to see this significant sales mark among books. Book collectors will often browse stores on a regular basis, whether they are used bookstores or new releases, looking for a new story or something published by their favourite author. Considering how fast we can tap a card at the payment desk versus how long it will take to read what we’ve purchased, many book owners have an influx of books they have yet to read.  

In 2022, approximately 33 per cent of Canadians responded they read a book every day, with 49 per cent reporting they will read or listen to a book once a week. Other data indicated that one in five Canadians who report themselves as readers read between 1 and 5 books per year. A common trend among readers these days has been the increase in sales and use of audiobooks. In 2021, the United Kingdom saw an uptick in audiobook sales of 43 per cent from the previous year and the trend has not slowed since. 

Through these figures, a few things are made clear: many Canadians do not read in their spare time and those who do typically read a lot. This makes data and averages difficult to track. On a global scale, according to Statista, the Canadian average for time spent reading per week is just under six hours. In rank order, this puts Canada on par with Spain and just above the average seen in Germany, the United States and Italy. Meanwhile, in India, the average time spent reading per week is greater than ten and a half hours. The average in Thailand is nine and a half hours, and the average in China is reportedly 8 hours per week. 

A noteworthy trend in recent years has also been the hashtag #BookTok on TikTok. The hashtag typically promotes new romance books from a variety of genres and, though it is genderless, typically is promoted by women. The power of the hashtag is something authors can only hope their book gets caught in as sales skyrocket when a new title goes viral on TikTok. 

A common positive trend has come from this as the promotion of books and reading on TikTok has actually prompted more young people to read. Surveys show that 48 per cent of those who engage read more now than they had before following the BookTok trend, and 62 per cent surveyed said they read at least one book based on BookTok recommendations. Booksellers have quickly caught on to the craze, filling tables and shelves with books trending on BookTok. 

While many young adults are finding their way back to reading, data released by Scholastic indicates that children and teens are getting their noses in books as well. Eighty-six per cent of kids are currently reading or have just finished reading a book without being assigned to do so. Fifty per cent of kids 6-17 years old reported reading 1-4 books a week for the fun of it. Eighty-two per cent of kids in the same age range said they know they should read more books for fun, while 82 per cent of parents said they wished their kids read more books for fun. 

Scholastic’s data shows that as kids age, they begin to read leisurely less often, with boys reading less than girls overall. Fifty per cent of readers between 6-8 years old read 5-7 days per week, while only 25 per cent of teenagers report the same. Seventy-seven per cent of children 9-11 years old reported they enjoyed reading, while only 59 per cent of kids between 12 and 14 said the same. This figure increases to 66 per cent of those between 15 and 17 saying they enjoyed reading. 

As life becomes more complicated and kids further develop agency, there is a recognizable decrease in the rate at which they read. Somewhere along the way, reading stops being as interesting to kids as they take on more responsibilities. It’s key that we find a way to help young people stay encouraged to read as they get older, as it will either become a hobby that lasts a lifetime or a skill that slowly depreciates. 

The trouble is whether an individual chooses to continue reading, which has many benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety. Regular reading helps improve concentration and memory, expands vocabulary, and increases our knowledge of the world and others. 

While it’s easier and perhaps more inviting to sit down and see what’s new on Netflix, there is tremendous value in sitting down with a good book. For many, a major barrier is the cost, as a new hardcover typically costs $30 or more. But it’s important to remember that local libraries are free for all of us. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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