Americans are spending less time with their noses in a book, and their reading aptitude is getting worse, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) reported Monday.
The government-funded organisation collated statistics from more than 40 studies on the reading habits and skills of Americans across the age range in a new study called "To Read or Not To Read."
"This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country's culture, economy and civic life as well as our children's educational achievement," said NEA chairman Dana Gioia, an award-winning poet.
The NEA reported that American 15-year-olds ranked 15th in average reading scores for 31 industrialised nations, behind Poland, South Korea, France and Canada among others.<b1>
On average, Americans aged 15 to 24 spend nearly two hours a day watching television, and only seven minutes of their free time on reading.
Even among the best educated, the percentage of adults who attended graduate college who were rated proficient in reading prose dropped by 20 per cent from 1992 to 2003.
And 38 per cent of employers considered most school-leavers to be deficient in basic reading comprehension.
On the flip side, keen readers were found to be more likely to engage in "positive civic and individual activities" -- such as voluntary work, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.
"This report shows striking statistical links between reading, advanced reading skills, and other individual and social benefits," said Sunil Iyengar, director of research and analysis at the NEA.
"'To Read or Not To Read" compels us to consider more carefully how we spend our time, since those choices affect us individually and collectively," he said.
To help combat the decline, the NEA has organised nearly 200 US communities to participate in "The Big Read," readings of 12 classic US novels such as
The Great Gatsby
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird
The campaign's name is taken from a BBC series broadcast in 2003 that found JRR Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings
to be Britain's best-loved book.