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Are Kids and Teens in the U.K. and U.S. Reading for Fun?

4 minute read | November 2016

From TV and video games to movies and music, kids today have a lot of entertainment at their fingertips and a growing number of devices they can use to connect anytime anywhere. But what about one of the oldest forms of entertainment—the book?

In both the U.K. and the U.S., Nielsen Book Research has, for the past five years, been examining the book reading and buying habits of children and teens in the context of their wider leisure activities. Through these regular studies and events such as our recent Nielsen Kids Book Summit in the U.S., we’ve examined the role that books play in children’s lives and looked at how they are faring against the plethora of other leisure activities, digital and physical, that are increasingly available.

In the U.K. study in 2015, nearly two-thirds of children aged 0-17s read (or were read to) for pleasure on a weekly basis, with two in five doing so daily, and nearly all doing so at least sometimes. However, the proportion of kids 0-17 reading weekly had fallen by 1% point year-over-year since 2014 and was 7% points lower than in 2012. The decrease was seen among girls as well as boys and was most marked among kids aged 3-10, dropping the most for boys aged 8-10. 

For the first time in 2016, the annual U.S. survey also looked at the proportion of children reading (or being read to) for pleasure. On a daily basis, just over half of those aged 0-12 and only one in five teens were doing so, but an encouraging 82% of children read on a weekly basis and nearly half of all teens. In fact, on a weekly basis, reading was the third most popular activity for 0-12 year olds (with watching TV at number one). For teens, reading as a leisure activity was in 11th place, well behind such activities as social networking, watching YouTube, watching TV, playing games on smartphones/tablets and playing games online or on a console.

Despite the ubiquity of digital reading devices (over 80% of American children have access to a smartphone and/or computer in their household, and over half have access to a tablet device), only around one in five 0-17 year olds in the U.S. are currently using smartphones for e-reading, with a third of 0-12s and two in five teens e-reading on tablets. The U.K. saw similar levels of e-reading in 2015, with 14% of 0-17s using a smartphone and 31% using a tablet—despite much higher proportions (79%) having tablet access in the U.K. than in the U.S.

E-books still account for very small proportions of purchases of children’s books in both the U.K. and the U.S. according to Nielsen’s Books & Consumers Survey: currently 11% in the U.S. and around 5% in the U.K. (though double that for Young Adult purchases alone). And while the numbers of children in the U.K. who say that they have ever read a digital book are rising slowly, the proportion who say they have or are interested to do so have remained steady at just over 60% since the first children’s reading survey five years ago.

For the book industry, the question is—what could encourage more digital book use and reading in general? The most recent U.S. survey asked parents—and teens—what factors would help. While 5% of parents said that there is nothing that will encourage their child to read more, nearly three in five (59%) said that the parent reading with the child would help. Finding more interesting books and having a bedtime reading routine were also popular choices, with a website showing books by age and interest deemed the most helpful aid (by 61% of parents) to find more interesting books for their child to read.

Teens are also looking for more interesting books—and boys of all ages named video game/app-integrated books as the most likely thing that would encourage them to read more than they did.

These regular in-depth studies will continue to monitor children’s engagement with books, supplementing the measurement of the children’s book market provided by Nielsen Book’s tracking services.

For more information, Nielsen’s book data is available for sale in the Nielsen Store.

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