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Reading Canada | Reading Canada Part 2: Fiction or Non-Fiction

October 17, 200517 October 2005 (Reading Canada) (Fiction or Non-Fiction)

These short fact sheets provide a limited analysis of the results of a book reading survey of 2,002 Canadians 18 or older. The first fact sheet examines variations in book reading by region, education, income, sex, age, and political party support, while the second fact sheet looks at readers of fiction vs. non-fiction. Statistics in the first fact sheet indicate that, overall, 85% of Canadians read at least one book in the six months prior to the survey (December 2002). Consistent with other arts studies, the first fact sheet finds that book reading increases with education (which is called the “most important factor in a respondent’s degree of reading”). More women than men read, and book reading is most common in Ontario and the West, with British Columbians having a particularly high reading rate. No statistics are available on book reading by ethnicity or immigration status, and the survey did not cover other types of reading (e.g., magazines and newspapers).

Among all respondents, the most commonly cited factor in book selection was browsing in a bookstore or library, followed by a recommendation from someone that the respondent knew, and the choice of an author whose books were liked by the respondent. For less frequent readers, a recommendation from a friend was the most important factor, meaning that readership development strategies may want to focus on a “friends-talking-to-friends” strategy.

Other statistics in the fact sheet show that reading does not increase consistently with income. In fact, those with incomes between $20,000 and $30,000 have an overall reading rate (88%) that is very close to the rate for those earning $80,000 or more (91%). There is a lot of variation in the reading statistics by income level, possibly due to statistical variation in these categories because of the fairly small sample size. The overall reading rate also decreases somewhat with age, with 88% of those between 18 and 29 reading at least one book, compared to 79% of those 60 and over. However, respondents 60 and over tended to read the most books (along with those between 45 and 59).

The overall reading rate (88% of respondents having read at least one book in the past six months) is quite a bit higher than a similar statistic from a 1998 Statistics Canada survey. Highlights of these findings (see show that about 61% of Canadians read at least one book in the past year. The Statistics Canada report is based on a survey of almost 11,000 Canadians 15 or older.

The different sample sizes may be a factor in the difference between the estimates, but there appears to be some consistency in lower estimates of arts participation based on surveys done by Statistics Canada compared with those done by private polling firms. In Volume 2, Number 8 of the Arts Research Monitor, we noted that the Statistics Canada figures on arts attendance also varied significantly from a similar but smaller study conducted by Decima Research for the Department of Canadian Heritage. In particular, estimates of performing arts attendance, festival attendance, and visual arts attendance were all substantially lower in the Statistics Canada survey than in the Decima survey. Of course, there is a remote possibility that reading and many other forms of arts participation increased significantly between 1998 and the early years of the new millennium. (A Hill Strategies report on consumer spending on culture showed that spending on books did increase by 23% between 1997 and 2001. See It is also possible that, despite its large sample size, the 40-minute Statistics Canada telephone survey did not capture the best possible picture of arts attendance, possibly because questions about arts attendance were one component of a relatively long survey about respondents’ use of time. “Long questionnaires are apt to induce respondent fatigue and errors arising from inattention, refusals, and incomplete answers.” (How to Plan a Survey, NC State University, A close examination of the 1998 Time Use Survey records shows that many respondents did not respond to any of the questions about arts activities, likely because they had already hung up by the time these questions were asked. Although these responses could be factored out in the analysis stage (something that Hill Strategies has done in its reports using this data but that Statistics Canada has not done), it is possible that other respondents gave inaccurate answers due to inattention or the desire to quickly end the survey.

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