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Children and young people's reading in 2023

Added 04 Sep 2023 | Updated 13 Sep 23

Children reading humorous book

This report is based on 71,351 responses to our Annual Literacy Survey from children and young people aged 5 to 18 in early 2023[1]. It includes findings on reading enjoyment, frequency and attitudes and explores responses by age, gender, socio-economic background and geographical region.

In 2023, we recorded the lowest level of reading enjoyment since we started asking children and young people about this in 2005. A large part of the reason is that fewer of those who have traditionally enjoyed reading, such as girls and those aged 8 to 11, now say they enjoy it.

Key findings

Reading enjoyment:

  • Just 2 in 5 (43.4%) children and young people aged 8 to 18 said they enjoyed reading in their free time in 2023. This is the lowest level since we first asked the question in 2005.
    • Fewer children and young people who receive free school meals (FSMs) said they enjoyed reading compared with their peers who do not receive free school meals (39.5% vs. 43.8%).
    • Fewer boys than girls said they enjoyed reading (40.5% vs. 45.3%). While the gender gap in reading enjoyment has halved for those aged 8 to 18 between 2005 and 2023 (decreasing from a 10.7 to a 4.8 percentage-point difference in favour of girls), this drop is largely because of a greater drop in reading enjoyment in girls than in boys.

Reading frequency:

  • Fewer than 3 in 10 (28.0%) children and young people aged 8 to 18 said that they read daily in 2023, matching levels seen in 2022.
    • There has been a 26% decrease in the number of children and young people aged 8 to 18 who read daily in their free time since 2005 (decreasing from 38.1% to 28.0%).
    • Fewer children and young people who receive FSMs said they read daily compared with those who don’t (24.1% vs. 28.9%).
    • More girls than boys aged 8 to 18 said they read daily (30.4% vs 24.9%). Only 1 in 5 (21.5%) of boys who receive FSMs read daily, compared with 3 in 10 (31.1%) of girls who don’t receive FSMs. However, daily reading levels increased for boys and decreased for girls between 2022 and 2023 regardless of whether or not they received FSMs.

Children’s reading environment:

  • Within the 8 to 18 age group, 1 in 2 (52.9%) told us they had been encouraged to read by their parents/carers. 3 in 5 (58.4%) had seen their parents/carers read, while 1 in 5 (19.9%) had read with their family.
    • Nearly three times as many children and young people who perceived their reading environment to be supportive said they enjoyed reading compared with those who perceived it to be less supportive (63.9% vs. 25.4%), while twice as many read daily in their free time (41.7% vs. 17.7%)

Our previous reports cautioned that increasingly visible downward trends in reading enjoyment and frequency should be addressed urgently. Declining reading enjoyment across a growing number of children and young people must act as a wake-up call for all who support children and young people’s reading for pleasure and the many benefits it can bring.

[1] 7,285 aged 5 to 8 and 64,066 aged 8 to 18.

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