In its look at the adoption of electronic book formats, Pew Research stumbled onto an interesting data point. The most likely person to read a book — in any format — is a black woman who's been to college.
Slate's Jacob Weisberg spotted the data point buried in Pew's report, "￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps." When asked Pew asked people if they'd read a book over the past year, there were clear demographic differences in the responses.
Not all of the distinctions are statistically significant here, meaning that since Pew is looking at smaller and smaller subsets of its data, small percentage differences can misrepresent reality. But some distinctions are clear and significant:
- Women read more books than men.
- Black and white people read more books than Hispanics. (The difference between black and white readers isn't large enough to be statistically significant.)
- People who've been to college read more books than those who haven't.
There are other contrasts that the report draws: people who make $50,000 or more a year are more likely to read books, as are young people, in some circumstances.
Nor is it the case that ebooks are rapidly gaining on traditional paperbacks. More Americans own tablets or ereaders (like a Kindle), but still 69 percent of Americans are reading traditional book-books. Only 28 percent of Americans read an ebook last year. That 69 percent figure is actually up slightly over 2012, when only 65 percent of Americans did so.
That distinction doesn't vary much by demographic group. Young people are more likely to read ebooks than older people, but they're also generally more likely to read paper books, too. Black people read more of every type of book, though it's statistically close. Ebooks are more likely to be read by people in cities or suburbs than in rural areas.
One last point of data: Americans read an average of 12 books last year — but that's skewed by very heavy readers. The average American, Pew reports, read five books, a number that increased as readers got wealthier or older. Before you feel too satisfied about how literate Americans are and how much reading we're doing, take a look at Amazon's best-selling books of 2013. With every tasty morsel, include a grain of salt.