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Reading Through the Ages

Generational Reading Survey

February 26, 202026 February 2020

Reading / writing / publishing and literacy

Library Journal


Amy Rea

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This journal article examines similarities and differences in reading behaviours across generations in the United States in 2019, based on a survey of 2,232 readers. There were at least 400 respondents from each generation: Generation Z (age 16–22), Millennials (age 23–38), Generation X (age 39–54), Baby Boomers (age 55–73), and the Silent Generation (age 74–91).

The survey found that the Silent Generation read the most books (an average of 25 per year) and Generation Z read the least (an average of eight). The Silent Generation “also led the pack in books purchased, averaging nine annually”.

Millennials and Generation X were “most inclined to have visited the library in person or used the library for any reason in the last 12 months (both at 71%)”. The report notes that this is potentially because they are the generations most likely to have young children at home and may be taking part in children’s programming.  Generation X respondents were most likely to have borrowed a book from the library in the last 12 months (49% did so), followed by Generation Z (47%), Millennials (46%), Baby boomers (43%) and the Silent Generation (40%).

The survey found that respondents of all ages were more likely to borrow books from the library than to purchase books. All generations except the Silent Generation indicated that price was the most important factor in the choice to borrow rather than buy. For the Silent Generation, “having a library conveniently located is the top priority”.

In terms of book buying habits, the report found that Amazon was the top source of book purchases for all generations. “Chain bookstores came in second for all except the Silent Generation, whose number two buying spot is used bookstores.” The report calls the Silent Generation “the top purchaser of used books”, because people 74 and older were also more likely to buy from library, community, church and/or garage sales. Millennials and Generation Z were the most likely age groups to shop for books at local independent shops, although the report notes that “both are still much more likely to use Amazon and chain bookstores”.

When asked how they find books, all of the generations identified recommendations from friends and family as the most preferred method (over 55% in each group). There were generational differences for the second place method:

  • Generation Z uses social media (43%)
  • Millennials (40%) and Generation X (38%) browse Amazon
  • Baby Boomers and Silent Generation (both 32%) use bestseller lists

When asked what kind of books they read, all generations indicated they read more fiction than non-fiction: “Overall, the estimate is 61% fiction and 39% nonfiction. Fiction is especially prevalent in the youngest (Generation Z, 65%) and oldest (Silent Generation, 66%) generations”.

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