Surprising Facts About Aussie Teens’ Reading Habits Revealed


Australian teens would sooner flick through the pages of a physical novel than listen to an audiobook or read on their phone or tablet, Deakin University research reveals.

But almost three in 10 students in Years 7-12 say they do not read in their spare time, highlighting an urgent need to foster reading among youth in the digital age.

Associate Professor Leonie Rutherford of Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts said her newly released Australian Research Council-funded report explored the reading patterns of the nation’s secondary school students.

It uncovered surprising habits about teens’ engagement with books, revealing that parents and friends influence teens’ reading choices more than their school or where they live.

Most teen readers (73%) preferred printed books, with fiction genres such as fantasy, mystery and crime, and dystopian plots among their favourite picks. But reading frequency declined as they got older, with girls more inclined to read than boys.

‘Our research sought to understand the reading habits of secondary students so we could find ways to better foster a love of reading in young people. Teens today have more distractions than ever than to sit down with a good book,’ Associate Professor Rutherford said.

‘It was surprising to find out today’s youth – often referred to as digital natives – preferred printed books over digital copies. But it makes sense when we consider they are often given books as gifts.

‘Many also browse bookshelves at school or local libraries, while others experience eyestrain when looking at a screen or get frustrated at alerts on their phone when they are trying to read. Some just like the feel of a book in their hands.’

A total 13,217 Australian secondary school students were surveyed for the study. The report focused on teens’ voluntary reading habits, specifically excluding homework or school-assigned reading.

The study found that nearly one-third of teens do not read for pleasure during the school term, while 15% read daily, with the rest reading at varying frequencies throughout the week.

In contrast, almost half of teenagers surveyed engaged extensively with social media, making it the preferred passive leisure activity for teens followed by watching TV, movies, or videos on YouTube.

Dr Bronwyn Reddan, research fellow on the project, said findings showed peers, parents, librarians, and teachers played an important role in encouraging secondary students to read.

This included by giving book recommendations aligned with a young person’s interests, making reading social by discussing books, parents modelling reading behaviour at home, and making sure school and local libraries were well-stocked.

Curriculum pressures also meant students were given less time to read in class as they moved into senior school levels, but she said reading should be prioritised at any age.

‘We know reading for pleasure is linked to better academic achievement, higher levels of wellbeing and better employment outcomes after finishing school. We also found that students who read regularly tend to use social media less,’ Dr Reddan said.

‘The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a respected global test of 15-year-olds’ maths and reading skills, also shows literacy rates are declining, but we know regular reading can help to address this.’

The report identified seven personality types based on teens’ reading habits and preferences. These were: Fiction Fanatics, Regular Bookworms, Rushed Fans, Casual Dabblers, Holiday Browsers, Sparse Readers, and Book Abstainers.

Associate Professor Rutherford said a better understanding of each reader type helped to drill down to teens’ attitudes about reading, including what encouraged them to read and what held them back.

‘A key challenge we face is helping teens find books that captivate their interests and motivate them to read. To foster a strong reading culture, it is essential that we align initiatives with teens’ digital habits and find ways to make reading accessible and appealing to them,’ Associate Professor Rutherford said.

Australia Reads head Anna Burkey said the report shed light on what teens like about reading and how more teens could develop a love for books.

‘Valuing what teens choose to read, discussing books at home, and making sure young people see adults enjoying books – these are all key to supporting a reading culture and creating lifelong readers,’ Ms Burkey said.

Project partners for this research were, the Australian Publishers Association, BookPeople, the Copyright Agency, the Australian Library and Information Association and the School Library Association of Victoria.

Report recommendations:

  • Support teens to find their next great read and let them follow their interests
  • Invest in school libraries and librarians
  • Parents should be encouraged to model reading behaviour
  • Make reading social through discussions about books with friends and family
  • Carve out time for teens to read at school and at home.

The full report, Discovering a Good Read: Exploring Book Discovery and Reading for Pleasure Among Australian Teens, can be found here.

/University Public Release. View in full here.