The state of reading in Denmark

A new study has shown that a large group of people in Denmark, never reads. 18% never reads. They prefer movies or television – or say they don’t have the time. The amount of non-readers in Denmark hasn’t been this high since 1993. In 2004, only 10% never read. We still buy and rent a lot of books and luckily, the group of readers younger than 15 are reading more. The non-readers are apparently mostly older men and it’s probably because of the financial crisis. These older men who are experiencing financial troubles, simply don’t have enough energy to sit down and concentrate on a book but choose to be distracted by crime series or sports shows instead.

Others claim that the big group of non-readers is caused by the focus on visual and participatory entertainment – like the internet. Also the fact that it’s no longer considered to be more intellectual to read a book than to watch a movie. Culture has been democratized in this way. It might also be caused by the fact that a lot of librarians are women and that more and more women are authors – and that that keep the men away.

In Denmark we already have 1 in every 10 persons is what you can call a functioning an-alphabet and the consequence of this new high number of non-readers might be more functioning an-alphabets in the future – but it also means that our language looses some of it’s variety and diversity. If we just reads text messages, internet texts and suck, we don’t get to see what our language is capable of. Suddenly, everything is just fantastic – we forget to use words like wonderful, marvelous etc because of this lack of reading. In a novel, the author has spend a lot of time getting the language just right – the same is not true of (most) magazine articles, text messages, internet texts and the like.

However, as one person points out, it’s not because of female librarians and authors since these older men mostly read non-fiction and a lot of non-fiction books are written by … older men! Besides, we women did still read back when most authors were men. So the gender thing is not the explanation.

Right now, I teach a group of unemployed men. Because of their unemployment, they get to choose a 6 week class and I teach communication, how to handle conflicts and more. At least one of these has so much trouble reading that last week was the first time he tried to turn on a computer and he hasn’t got an email address. A lot of the rest of these have trouble reading to various degrees. I had them do exercise where they had to say if a sentence was an observation or an evaluation – and some of them had never heard these words before.

It has really given me food for thought that these sweet and funny guys are having so much trouble reading. Both my parents have been teachers, I come from a family of readers, I read and my boyfriend read – reading is a big part of my life. I couldn’t imagine life without books and reading in it. But these guys can’t read – and I think most of them think reading is really difficult – and it makes me a bit sad since I know how much you have to read and write, no matter what type of job you get.

For me, these guys really put faces on the statistics. These guys are some of the 18% – and I wish I could help them… But I only teach 7 days of the 6 weeks course so I can’t…

Is the statistics the same in other countries? Why do you think people don’t read?

Read more (in Danish):

2 thoughts on “The state of reading in Denmark

  1. I haven’t seen any similar statistics for the UK but I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results. What’s frustrating is how difficult it is to even volunteer to help people to learn to read or become more confident about reading. I’ve lost count of the number of phone calls I’ve made to different groups asking if there were opportunities to volunteer. I felt I was talking in a completely foreign language. Yet there are thousands of people who just need that helping hand. So why are public bodies and community associations not doing more to get readers and non readers better connected??

    • I have no idea! In Denmark, in the Kindergardens and in schools, they are really doing a lot of work to get children to become better readers. And there are places where grownups can get help – butI don’t think there are a lot of places where people can get help learning to read fiction, literature, and learn to love it and get better at reading through that love…

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