World Reading Habits in 2021 [Infographic]

Avatar by Isabel Cabrera | December 19, 2023, 10:58 pm

We read a lot more books in 2020 because of lockdowns.

Did we read as much in 2021?

That’s what we set about to find out in our 2021 edition of world reading habits. We’ve compiled all of our research into another fascinating infographic.

Our infographic reveals which countries are reading the most, what they’re reading, and how the ongoing pandemic continues to impact reading habits across the globe.

Some highlights of our research includes:

  • People in India, Thailand, and China spend the most hours reading books per week
  • The romance genre is the most popular among US readers
  • Of all the generations, Millennials read the most books
  • Finland, Poland, and Estonia are Europe’s biggest bookworms
  • Audiobooks are growing in popularity in China
  • The pandemic led to a decrease in literacy rates in developing countries.

Want the low down on exactly how much the world are reading in 2021, and what we’re reading?

Check out the infographic below to discover everything you need to know about worldwide reading habits in 2021:

world reading habits 2021 infographic

Let’s break down our infographic in more detail:


Americans are reading more! 25% more when compared to last year. Those aged between 20 and 34 spend an average of 6.6 minutes reading per day.

Although some US citizens are consuming more books, 23% of Americans haven’t picked up a single book in the past year. In addition, 29% of rural Americans have never read a book.

Printed books are the preference of 39% of the population, with only 5% opting for audiobooks.

Romance remains in the number 1 spot for the biggest-selling genre in the USA.


Europeans are the world’s biggest bookworms and spend at least one hour each day reading.

Finland, Poland, and Estonia harbor the most significant number of Europes readers, with 16.8% of Finnish citizens claiming reading to be their favorite pastime.

France, Romania, Austria, and Belgium have fewer bookworms compared with the rest of the EU.

Digital literacy is rising rapidly, with at least 56% of the Population in Europe aged between 16-74 having basic digital literacy.


India, China, and Thailand spend the most time reading.

Although they read frequently, they are not the most literate. These low literacy levels are primarily attributed to limited access to libraries, newspapers, and computers.

Koreans spend lots of money on books! 12% of Koreans have made personal development a new years resolution and plan on using books as their preferred medium for learning.

In China, audiobooks are trending. They are popular among youth and older generations, with numbers steadily rising. For example, in 2019, 30 % of adults and 34% of minors regularly used audiobooks.

China also has the highest percentage of everyday book readers.

Asian female Authors are producing phenomenal books. So much so, they’re being translated into English; top titles include “Bright” by Duanwad Pimwana, translated from Thai, “Heaven” by Miko Kawakami, translated from Japanese and, “Notes of a Crocodile” by Qui Miaojin, translated from Chineses.


Reading is considered a leisure activity in African households, with 7 out of every ten adults claiming that they read for this purpose.

Reading is the fifth most popular leisure activity in Africa.

Although reading is a leisure activity for most Africans, surprisingly, more than 16 million South Africans don’t own a single book. That equates to almost 58% of the population.

In South Africa, only 14% of the population read books. However, among the adult population, 25% read regularly.

16 million South Africans (roughly 58%) don’t own a single book. However, 42% of households own one or more books, and 7 % of the South African population own more than ten books.

Global literacy

Global literacy for 2021 was 86%, with women having higher illiteracy rates than males.

East Asia and the pacific have the words highest literacy rate (95.7%) compared to sub-Saharan Africa who has the lowest rate (65.47%).

Overall literacy in first-world nations continues to rise, with countries like Luxembourg, Andorra, and Norway reporting 100% literacy rates.

Guinea, Niger, Djoubite, Kiribati, and Niue are the least literate nations.

Africa’s literacy rate remains low. One in three African adults cannot read, and a staggering 48 million people aged between 15-24 are illiterate.

Global literacy by generation

Like last year, the youth are more literate than adults, thanks to more schools and early child development programs being made available to the younger generations.

Although it’s encouraging to see adult literacy rates increasing year on year (albeit marginally), literacy levels in sub-Saharan Africa and other low-income countries are still well below the global average of 86%.

When looking at the reading habits by generation, Millennials dominate in book reading and mainly use libraries to source reading materials .

However, Gen-Z has made the most significant improvement in reading more but prefers social media to hunt for top reads.

Boomers and The Silent generation choose reading materials based on bestsellers, and the newest generation, Gen-X opting to consume reading maternal, mainly news, online.

Across the generational spectrum, 61% of readers prefer non-fiction over fiction.

Paper Books still reign supreme

Over 1.5 million book titles were published in 2021, with printed book sales increasing by 18.5% during the first half of the year.

2021’s total book revenue generated $26 billion, of which ebooks generated 9%. Overall, ebook sales declined marginally by 8%.

Printed books continue to trump their electronic counterparts. 66% of book readers prefer them because they offer a more fulfilling and unique reading experience.

2021 saw ebook sales decline by 8%, with print books outselling ebooks 4 to one.

When looking at the various genres and sales volumes, Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi topped the list.

The most considerable increase by far was in the genre of Graphic novels, whose sales rose by a staggering 146%

The popularity of audiobooks is rising, with North American dominating with a market share of over 46%.

The most significant player in the audiobook market is Audible who offer over 200000 titles on their platform.

What are people reading

As predicted last year, romance continues to dominate and is still the most profitable fiction genre worldwide.

Crime/ Mystery comes in second place, with Religious and Inspirational titles leading the way in most popular non-fiction.

Continuing on the 2020 trend, the adaptation of books into Netflix series and Blockbuster movies is growing increasingly popular.

2021 saw box office hits like Sarah Gay Forden’s The House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani and Frank Huberts dystopian sci-fi – Dune.

The best sellers list for 2021 included several female authors. Topping the best sellers list for 2021:Emily Henry’s People we met on vacation, Taylor Jenkins Reid – Malibu Rising and Laura Dave’s- The Last thing he told me.

Covid-19 and lockdowns impact on reading habits

Covid-19 decimated almost every industry on the planet, with the education sector no exception.

Forced closures and disruptions have led to over 100 million children across the globe falling below the minimum proficiency level in reading.

These unprecedented numbers are expected to rise with the discovery of new coronavirus variants and we will be prompted to think outside of the box to find new solutions.

Developing nations saw a decrease in the literacy rate in 2021.

Issues such as the lack of technology, power disruptions, and the costs associated with online schooling were the most significant factors.

However, these issues are not likely to resolve overnight, and African nations will need to prioritize infrastructure development to get back on track.

On the bright side, the pandemic has helped thousands to rediscover their love of books.

Top picks included Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Midnight Library by Mat Haig and, Roald Dahl’s classic Matilda.

The relevance of libraries in 2021

Think again if you thought libraries would die out the way Blockbuster video rental stores did. On the contrary, libraries are the biggest buyers of books globally.

In the US, both young and old use public libraries, with statistics revealing that more than half of age groups 6-17 utilize libraries to source books.


So there you have it! 2021 or Covid-the sequel as some jokingly call it has been a challenging year.

The world is still not back to normal, and it doesn’t seem like we’re going to. The “new normal” is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

What’s encouraging to note is that although our world has become more technologically dependent, books have proven their staying power and will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of both young and old.

Authors continue to tell us their stories, and readers from across the globe are still enthusiastic about reading.


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