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Youths Reading Less, Adults Read More, New Survey Finds

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Washington--Young people are reading less than they did five years ago, a study of reading and book-buying habits released last week by the Library of Congress has found.

At the same time, more adults are buying and reading books than were doing so five years ago, a "healthy" situation, according to the researchers.

One way to encourage children to read more is to encourage parents to read more, those who conducted the study also said. They further noted a connection between schools and reading: More than half of the books read by the young people who are reading were obtained at school libraries.

The study, "The Consumer Research Study on Reading and Book Purchasing," was commissioned last year by the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit group of publishers, librarians, manufacturers, and others associated with the publishing field. It updates a similar study sponsored by the group in 1978.

Conducted by Market Facts Inc. and analyzed by Research and Forecasts Inc., both of which are New York-based firms, the study questioned a representative sample of 1,961 people, including 1,429 adults aged 16 to 60 and 551 adults aged 60 and older. In addition, 532 children ages 8 to 15 were interviewed.

Despite "keen competition from alternate forms of entertainment," the study concluded, book reading and purchasing is in a "healthy" condition. The proportion of adults who read books rose from 55 percent in 1978 to 56 percent in 1983, which, taking into account population changes, means that the actual number of book readers has grown by 8 million, according to the study.

Shifting Patterns

But despite that generally positive appraisal, the study notes that ''there are shifting patterns of readership resulting in the loss of readers among certain groups." One of those shifts occurred in the reading habits of young people between 16 and 21 years of age; in that group, the proportion of readers declined from 75 percent in 1978 to 63 percent in 1983.

"Since this portion of the total population has decreased by 2.2 percent, the loss of book readers is disproportionate," the study notes. "If this trend continues, it may have serious consequences."

"This is the most disturbing thing that emerged from the report," said Erica Jong, the author and poet, who spoke at a press conference at which the report was released. "I think we should try to find out [the reason for the decline] in the next study."

Ann Lewin, director of the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, D.C., and author of children's books, noted that the new forms of electronic entertainment may play a role in diverting the attention of youths away from books.

An official from Market Facts Inc. noted that the next study--scheduled to be conducted in 1988--will take a closer look at why youths are spurning reading.

Parents' Attitudes

Based on interviews with 532 children ages 8 to 15 and their parents, the survey noted that "parents' attitudes toward reading have a profound effect on the number of books children read."

Children whose parents value reading both for pleasure and as a key to achievement, are the most apt to read many books, the study found. Children who read a great deal were regularly read to by their parents.

Eighty-three percent of the parents of children who were "heavy readers"--those who had read 15 or more books in the 10 months before the interview--said they encourage their children to read and appreciate books, the study found. Only 57 per-cent of the parents of children who were "light readers"--those who had read fewer than five books during the 10-month period--said they encouraged their children to pursue reading.

But the attitudes of parents were not the only influence on children's reading habits; parents' reading habits set examples as well, the researchers concluded. Almost half of the children whose parents read books said they were "heavy" book readers, the study found.

Confirming a link suggested in a number of education studies, the reading survey found a correspondence between family income and children's reading habits. Children from homes with higher incomes had read an average of 26.2 books in the six months preceding the study; those from lower-income homes had read 18.7 books.

Popular Books

Television watching, the study found, did not necessarily interfere with book reading. Among those children who were heavy readers, 90 percent said they also liked to watch television.

The most popular books read by children, the study found, were mysteries (chosen by 51 percent), humor and joke books (45 percent), and comic books (37 percent). About 31 percent of the children interviewed said they read books on space and the future, biographies, and sports books. The least popular types of books were those about arts and crafts (15 percent), religious books (15 percent), spy stories (14 percent), and poetry (11 percent).

The study found that boys are more likely to read comics or books about sports, history, and space and the future, while girls read romances and love stories, folk and fairy tales, and biographies.

Most children get their books from the school library. Fifty-four percent said they obtained their materials at school, 21 percent said they went to the public library, and 16 percent said they purchased their books.

More Americans over age 16 are patronizing libraries, according to the study. In 1978, 50 percent of all adults visited libraries, compared with 55 percent in 1983. Last year, those adults who visited libraries made an average of 3.5 visits a month, taking out an average of 3.2 books on each visit, compared with an average of 1.8 books in 1978.

Copies of the 500-page report, which is designed primarily for publishing companies, are available for a pre-publication price of $3,750 for five copies. The high cost of the study, which will be published in June, is to offset the $200,000 cost of producing the findings, according to an official of the study group.

For copies, write the Book Industry Study Group Inc., 160 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010.

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