World Book Day: Which European countries are the biggest readers? And who's reading the least?
Happy World Book Day!
Originally set up by UNESCO in 1995, World Book Day lands on 2 March this year and signifies a global celebration of reading in all its forms. But does World Book Day come this year at a time where European reading is at an all-time low?
The UNESCO World Book Day is officially set for 23 April 2023 - the anniversary of William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s deaths. The UK and Ireland, however, launched their own World Book Day on the first Thursday of March.
Even though today isn’t the worldwide World Book Day, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look at reading habits across Europe.
The vision of World Book Day is to encourage children from all backgrounds to find joy in reading. Part of that effort includes yearly selections of books available for just £1 / €1.50, with 30 million free tokens made available. In 2020, more than a million £1 books were bought with those tokens across the UK in the five weeks surrounding World Book Day.
Shifting such a high number of affordable books is crucial. Reading for pleasure is at the lowest level since 2005 across the UK and Ireland. Fewer than half (47.8%) of children aged nine to 18 say they enjoy reading. Concerningly, this might have a lot to do with access to literature. One in seven children said that the £1 book they “bought” with their World Book Day token was their first book.
Social inequalities that keep lower income children from books have only increased since Covid-19. With many children spending extended periods away from education institutions, many lost all access to new books.
The picture isn’t much better across Europe...
Which European countries spend the most on books?
The EU keeps tallies on how much Europeans are spending on literature. As of 2021, the average EU citizen spends around 1.1% of their earnings on newspapers, books or stationery.
The figure has actually risen from 1.0% since 2019, which happens to be when the UK left the EU. Before the UK left, the EU recorded that Brits spent 0.9% of their total earnings on books.
But which EU country is spending the most on books?
It’s Slovakia, and by some margin.
Slovakians spent an average of 1.9% of annual capita on newspapers, books or stationery. Slovakia has stayed top of the charts for the past five years and has actually dropped off slightly from a high of 2.1%.
Dropping down from 1.9% through to 1.2%, the next five countries spending the most on books were Croatia, Germany, Estonia, Latvia and Iceland.
Who’s at the bottom of the list though?
In the unenviable position of lowest money spent of capita on literature its Cyprus with just 0.4%. Greece, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia don’t have much room to gloat though, as they all spent a measly 0.5% in 2021.
The true loser of the list hasn’t even presented figures to the EU since 2019. North Macedonia last shared its expenditure three years ago when it was a miserable 0.1% of capita.
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Which country spends the most time reading?
It’s one thing spending money on literature. But as the old adage “time = money” implies, the real value in life is our time. So which countries are actually sitting down and tucking into a good read the most?
The figures for this across Europe are a little older, as the Harmonised European Time Use Surveys only take place once every decade and the 2020 figures are yet to be released.
However, we do have figures from surveys taken between 2008 and 2015 across 18 European countries.
At the top of the list for time spent reading per day is Estonia. The average 20 to 74 year old Estonian spends around 13 minutes reading every day. Also hitting figures over 10 minutes were Finland, Poland and Hungary.
At the bottom end of the charts was France, with the nation spending just two minutes reading per day. At a similar underwhelming level were Romania, Austria and Italy, spending five minutes of every 24 hours reading.
Similar results come up for which populations consider reading as an activity they spend time on: 16.8% of Fins call reading a “main activity”, with Poland, Estonia, Greece, and Luxembourg trailing close behind.
Once again, it's the French coming up stumps for readers.
Despite being the nation that brought the world Voltaire, Hugo, Proust, and most recently this year’s Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux, just 2.6% of French people consider reading a main activity in their lives.