The Korea Herald


S. Korean adults read books less than ever before: report

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : April 20, 2024 - 16:00

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Nearly 6 out of 10 South Koreans read less than one book in a year, a recent report by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism showed Thursday.

According to the report, 43 percent of the population read at least one book between September of 2022 and August of 2023. This was down 4.5 percentage points compared to the previous results of the biennial study released in 2021, and was the lowest figure since the government commenced the study in 1994.

The survey was conducted on 5,000 adults and 2,400 students.

The percentage of those reading at least one book a year was 86.8 percent in 1994, but has decreased almost every year since.

For the 2013 report, the ministry started including e-books in the survey, after which the figure rebounded to 72.2 percent from 66.8 percent in the previous report in 2011. However, the active reading population has decreased every year since then, with the most recent survey showing only 32.3 percent of South Koreans have read at least one paper book per year.

The most dramatic drop was found among the 60 and above age group, 15.7 percent of whom said they have read at least one book in a year. This marked a substantial drop from 23.8 percent in the previous study.

The younger population tended to read more, with 74.5 percent of the 19-29 group having read a book in the surveyed year. The figures for those in their 30s and 40s were 68 percent and 47.9 percent, respectively.

The study indicated that people with relatively lower incomes are less likely to read. Approximately 54.7 percent of adults with a monthly income of 5 million won ($3,600) or more had read a book a year, but only 9.8 percent of adults with a monthly income of 2 million or less had done so.

South Koreans on average made 42.1 million won a year in 2022, according to the National Tax Service, which is equivalent to about 3.5 million won a month.

An average South Korean read 3.9 books in the survey year, down 0.6 from the 2021 figure. South Koreans bought on average 1 paper book and 1.2 e-book a year, and spent an average of 18.5 minutes a day during the weekday and 25 minutes a day on weekends reading.

The leading reason given by respondents for not reading was "having no time for it due to work" at 24.4 percent, followed by "I use smartphones and other mediums besides books" at 23.4 percent, and "I don't have a habit of reading" at 11.3 percent.

In contrast to the adult population, the percentage of students who read at least one book in a year stayed consistently above the 90 percent mark for most of the surveyed periods. It marked the lowest-ever figure of 83.6 percent in 2011 but went back up to 96.8 percent in the very next survey in 2013.

The ratio of active readers among students has not dipped below 90 percent since then, and marked 95.8 percent in 2023, good for the fifth-highest figure since the government started the official tally.

On average, South Korean students read about 36 books a year, up 1.6 from the 2021 figure. Students spent an average of 82.6 minutes a day reading during the weekdays and 89 minutes a day during weekends.

The study excluded reading textbooks or other materials for studying, along with magazines or comic books. However, the survey did show that 49.6 percent of the students thought comic books should also be considered reading material.