Reading vs. Watching TV

Reading vs. Watching TV

While the average reading time stands at 16:48 minutes per day, it accounts for only 5.31% of total leisure time. On the other hand, people spend much more of their free time on television.

We decided to investigate how reading time compares to the time people spend watching television and how this trend changes across genders and different age groups.

Time spent reading vs. watching TV

  • The average person watches TV for around 2 hours and 51 minutes while reading for no more than 16 minutes and 48 seconds during the average day.
  • This means that the average American spends 2 hours and 34 minutes more in front of the television than in from of the book. This is 9.21 times more time spent watching TV than reading books.
  • This difference got bigger over time, as in 2012 the average American spent 2.5 hours more in from of TV than reading for pleasure.
  • Overall, over the last 10 years, Americans’ average daily reading time declined by 15.15%, while time spent in front of television increased by 1.06%.
YearReading timeChangeWatching TVChange
Since 2012-15.15%1.06%
  • People spend around 5:16:12 hours relaxing with various leisure activities during the typical day as of 2021.
  • Combined, reading and TV watching account for nearly 60% of the leisure time for the average American.
  • However, 54.27% of total leisure time goes to television, while only 5.31% of total leisure time is spent on reading for personal interest.
  • Over the past 10 years, the share of reading in total leisure time for the average US citizen decreased by -13.54% while television watching increased by 2.98%.
YearTotal daily leisure timeShare of reading in leisure timeShare of TV during leisure time

How much time do men and women spend reading vs. watching TV?

  • The average American male over 15 years of age reads around 13 minutes and 48 seconds per day for personal interest but spends over 3 hours and 2 minutes per day watching television.
  • This means that men watch TV for 2 hours and 48 minutes longer than reading a book during the average day.
  • Over the past 10 years, reading time for men decreased by 11.54% while time spent watching TV decreased by only 0.98%.
  • Men tend to read less and watch TV more compared to the average American woman.
YearMen readingChangeMen watching TVChange
Since 2012-11.54%-0.98%
  • The average American woman reads around 19 minutes and 12 seconds during the typical day while spending around 2 hours and 41 minutes in front of the television.
  • The difference between daily TV time and reading time for the average woman stands at 2 hours and 22 minutes, around 26 minutes less compared to men.
  • However, this is the largest difference in favor of TV time over the past 10 years.
  • Overall, women decreased their reading time by 15.79% while increasing TV time by 3.07% over the past 10 years.
YearReading time (women)ChangeTV time (women)ChangeDifference

Reading vs. watching TV by age

  • Americans between 15 and 24 years of age read around 9:36 minutes per day reading while watching television for just under 2 hours. This group both reads and watches TV the least among all age groups.
  • People ages 15 to 24 are also the only age group in the US with a difference between TV and reading time under 2 hours. The group also has the smallest difference between reading and TV time over the past 10 years.
  • On the other hand, Americans over 65 years of age, while reading the most (34 minutes) during the typical day, they also spend over 4 and a half hours watching television.
  • Over the past 10 years, the difference between TV time and reading time for senior citizens increased by 18.73%.
  • At the same time, Americans between 15 and 24 years of age decreased this difference by 16.44%, and people ages between 25 and 54 also decreased the difference by 7.14%.
ReadingWatching TV
Year15 to 2425 to 5455 to 6465+15 to 2425 to 5455 to 6465+

Reading vs. watching TV during pandemic

  • From May to December 2020, people spent over 3 hours per day watching TV, the at least since 2009.
  • TV time increased by 14.4 minutes per day compared to 2019, while reading time increased by 4.2 minutes.
  • The difference between reading and TV time has never been higher than it was during 2020, 2.71 hours per day.
  • This is especially true for men, who spent exactly 3 more hours watching TV than reading books during 2020.
  • Women also increasde their TV time more than reading time, spending 2.45 hours more in front of the television than in from of the book.

Benefits of reading vs. TV

Although reading and television watching are both methods of absorbing information, both of the activities vary greatly in the way they are processed and interpreted. Despite there being pros and cons to each activity, reading comes with a far more comprehensive list of benefits on the whole. 

  • Although there are many benefits of reading over watching television, 32% of people report TV acts as a barrier to them reading as much as they would like.
  • Reading is an active process that requires an increased level of cognitive processing.
  • During reading, the reader must process the language used, understand its meaning and use imagination and critical thinking skills.
  • Watching television or video is a passive process that requires a decreased level of cognitive processing.
  • Effective reading typically requires an environment free of distractions, whereas distractions while watching television are generally less important.
  • TV or video watching may be more effective at conveying an overview of a topic, but gaining a deeper understanding is usually best achieved through reading.
  • Finding video information on a topic of interest is very accessible, quick and easy to do.

Reading vs. TV effect on health

Reading effect on health

  • Reading is associated with a number of physical and mental health benefits, including healthier lifestyle choices, increased life satisfaction and longer life expectancy.
  • Reading has been found to act as a sleeping aid and provide a slower, deeper level of gratification.
  • Lifelong reading habits have been shown to lessen the rate of mental decline by a third.
  • 6 minutes of reading has been found to reduce stress levels by up to 68%.
  • As they do not emit light (unlike other sources of entertainment), reading print books can encourage a better night’s sleep.
  • Books often take multiple days or weeks to complete, further exercising the memory when compared to other forms of entertainment.

TV effect on health

  • TV, especially when watched for hours at a time, is a highly sedentary and passive activity linked with many negative health effects including isolation, depression and obesity.
  • In terms of its effect on diet, binge-watching television has been linked to overeating, especially when it comes to unhealthy foods.
  • Watching a high amount of TV and having a low level of physical activity is linked to greater levels of middle age cognitive decline when compared to more active individuals who watch less TV.
  • Those that watch over 2-3 hours of TV per day are linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and are at a greater risk of suffering from premature death.
  • Excess video watching as part of a daily routine can disrupt a person’s sleep cycle, make them accustomed to instant gratification and cause mental disorganization/confusion. 
  • Although television can reduce anxiety when used as a method of distraction and relaxation, too much time in front of a TV can actually increase anxiety levels.

Reading vs. TV effect on brain

Reading effect on brain

  • Books need to engage the reader and hold their attention, developing focus and concentration skills.
  • Books do not contain adverts within their content, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in the narrative.
  • Reading allows the reader the ability to control the flow of information they absorb, allowing for thorough comprehension.
  • Mental visualization during reading stimulates the brain more than other forms of entertainment.
  • Reading aloud to children has been found to increase their IQ.
  • Children have been shown to produce more imaginative responses to questions after listening to a story when compared to watching a film.

TV effect on brain

  • TV can cause poor focus in frequent watchers due to developing shorter concentration habits.
  • Television often contains adverts which divert the attention of the watcher away from the show they are watching. 
  • TV and videos dictate the speed at which the information is given, making it more difficult for watchers to comprehend information at their own pace. 
  • Children who watch TV for 2 or more hours daily are more likely to suffer increased psychological difficulties at school, including hyperactivity, behavioral problems and social conflicts. 
  • Watching TV has even been found to lower the IQ of children.
  • Children under the age of 3 with increased exposure to TV have been linked to having delayed language acquisition.

Time spent watching television and movies by body mass index

  • A 2014 study of US adults aged 20 and over found a link between increased time spent watching television/movies and increased Body Mass Index (BMI).
  • Individuals classed as obese watched the highest minutes (190) of tv/movies on an average day.
  • Individuals classed as overweight watched the second highest minutes (171) of tv/movies on an average day.
  • Individuals classed as having a normal weight watched the lowest (153) minutes of tv/movies on an average day.
Body Mass IndexTime spent watching TV and movies on average day
Normal weight153 minutes
Overweight171 minutes
Obese190 minutes

A graph is given below to show adult time spent watching television and movies by BMI on an average day: