Reading Facts

A photo of an Asian man reading a small child a book. There are bookshelves behind them.

We want to create a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life. Research shows that reading for pleasure can promote better health and wellbeing, aids in building social connections and relationships with others and is associated with a range of factors that help increase the chances of social mobility.

Read our reports into the benefits of reading for pleasure and empowerment (BOP Consulting, 2015) and of creating a society of readers (Demos, 2018), or explore more reading stats and facts below.

Skills and Learning

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Reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education 

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1 in 4 children don’t reach the expected level of reading by the age of 11

Children

The need for our work

  • One in four children hasn’t reached the expected level of reading by the age of 11. Many of these children will struggle to keep up at secondary school. 1
  • Further research, conducted in 2015, found that similar percentages of 15-year-olds across the UK do not have a minimum level of literacy proficiency: 18% in England and Scotland, 15% in Northern Ireland and 21% in Wales. 2
  • Students are less able to learn other curricula if they do not develop sufficient reading skills by the middle of primary school.3
  • Only 35% of 10-year-olds in England report that they like reading ‘very much’. This lags behind countries like Russia (46%), Ireland (46%), New Zealand (44%), and Australia (43%).4
  • By the final year of compulsory schooling in England, the reading skills of children from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average almost three years behind those from the most affluent homes.5

Proven power of reading

  • Reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education and is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background.6
    16-year-olds who choose to read books for pleasure outside of school are more likely to secure managerial or professional jobs in later life.7
  • Having books in the home is associated with both reading enjoyment and confidence. Of children who report having fewer than 10 books in their homes, 42% say they do not like reading and only 32% say they are ‘very confident’ readers. For children who report having over 200 books at home, only 12% say they do not like reading and 73% consider themselves ‘very confident’ readers.8
  • Children who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gain higher results in maths, vocabulary and spelling tests at age 16 than those who read less regularly.9

Adults

The need for our work

  • In England, 31% of adults don’t read in their free time, rising to 46% of young people (aged 16 to 24)10
  • Around 5.8 million people (16% of adults) in England and Northern Ireland score at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy (at or below Level 1).11
  • Low levels of literacy cost the UK an estimated £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending, impacting on ‘the success of the economy as a whole’.12
  • Adults with lower levels of literacy are more likely to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and are less likely to participate in volunteer activities.13

Proven power of reading

  • Per capita incomes are higher in countries where more adults reach the highest levels of literacy proficiency and fewer adults are at the lowest levels of literacy.14
  • Reading extensively and for pleasure can foster the development of stronger reading habits and increase literacy skills at a greater rate than through formal literacy lessons.15

Connected Communities

Reading for pleasure enhances empathy and the ability to understand others’ identities

An icon depicting two people with their arms on each others shoulder.

19% of readers say that reading stops them from feeling lonely

The need for our work

  • Feelings of loneliness cut across all age groups. About 5% of all adults report feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’, with the number rising to 10% for 16-24-year-olds.16
  • People who are single, widowed, or in poor health are among those at increased risk of feeling lonely more often.17
  • Loneliness can cause serious physical harm: the health impacts are believed to be on the level of obesity or smoking.18

Proven power of reading

  • 19% of readers say that reading stops them from feeling lonely. 19 This is backed up by a study analysing social connectedness which found that reading books significantly reduces feelings of loneliness for people aged 18-64.20
  • Participation in shared reading groups is linked to enhanced relaxation, calmness, concentration, quality of life, confidence and self-esteem, as well as feelings of shared community and common purpose.21
  • Higher literacy skills are associated with a range of positive societal benefits, including having a stronger sense of belonging to society and being more likely to trust others. 22
  • Studies have found that reading for pleasure enhances empathy, understanding of the self, and the ability to understand one’s own and others’ identities.23

Health and Wellbeing

An icon of a person sitting and reading a book.

Adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction

Six icons of people. One of the icons is white, the other five are navy.

Each week about 1 in 6 adults in the UK are affected by a common mental health disorder

The need for our work

  • Each week about 1 in 6 adults in the UK are affected by a common mental health disorder.24
  • Children with reading difficulties are at greater risk of developing mental health problems later in life, including depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, anger and aggression. 25
  • Non-readers are 28% more likely to report feelings of depression, and about 1.3 million people in the UK say they rarely read because of depression. 26

Proven power of reading

  • An online poll of over four thousand people from a representative sample in the UK revealed that regular readers for pleasure reported fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers, and stronger feelings of relaxation from reading than from watching television or engaging with technology intensive activities. 27
  • Studies have shown that those who read for pleasure have higher levels of self-esteem and a greater ability to cope with difficult situations. Reading for pleasure was also associated with better sleeping patterns. 28
  • Adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction. 29


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References

  1.  [DfE (2022) Academic year 2021/11: Key Stage 2 Attainment p.13] ↩︎
  2. [OECD (2016), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Results from PISA 2015, United Kingdom p.3] ↩︎
  3. [DfE (2016) DfE strategy 2015-20: World-class education and care p.24] ↩︎
  4. [McGrane et al. (2017) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS): National Report for England p. 102] ↩︎
  5. [Jerrim, J, and N. Shure (2016) Achievement of 15-Year-Olds in England: PISA 2015 National Report DfE p. 105] ↩︎
  6. [Sullivan and Brown (2013) Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading] ↩︎
  7. [Taylor (2011) Reading at 16 linked to better job prospects] ↩︎
  8. [McGrane et al. (2017) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS): National Report for England p. 16] ↩︎
  9. [OECD (2010) PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn: Student Engagement, Strategies and Practices p. 32-4] ↩︎
  10. [DCMS (2018) Taking Part Survey: Free Time Activities Focus Report, 2017/18 p. 2] ↩︎
  11. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK): Country Note–Survey of Adult Skills First Results p. 6] ↩︎
  12. [World Literacy Foundation (2015) The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy p. 13] ↩︎
  13. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK) – Country Note -Survey of Adult Skills first results p. 3] ↩︎
  14. [OECD (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills] ↩︎
  15. [Hilhorst, S, et al. (2018) A Society of Readers Demos p. 26] ↩︎
  16. [Hilhorst, S, et al. (2018) A Society of Readers Demos p. 32] ↩︎
  17. [Hilhorst, S, et al. (2018) A Society of Readers Demos p. 32] ↩︎
  18. [DHSC (2018) Prevention is better than cure p. 10] ↩︎
  19. [Billington, J (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads University of Liverpool p. 6] ↩︎
  20. [Hilhorst, S, et al. (2018) A Society of Readers Demos p. 12] ↩︎
  21. [Longden E., Davis P., Billington J., et al (2015) Shared Reading: Assessing the intrinsic value of a literature-based intervention Medical Humanities, 41 (2), pp. 113-20] ↩︎
  22. [OECD (2013) Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills] ↩︎
  23. [Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads University of Liverpool] ↩︎
  24. [Hilhorst, S, et al. (2018) A Society of Readers Demos p. 30] ↩︎
  25. [Boyes, M. E., Leitao, S., Claessen, M., Badcock, N. A., and Nayton, M. (2016) Why Are Reading Difficulties Associated with Mental Health Problems? in Dyslexia, 22: 263-266] ↩︎
  26. [Billington, J (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool p. 5-6] ↩︎
  27. [Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool] ↩︎
  28. [Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool] ↩︎
  29. [Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool p. 7] ↩︎
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