Gen Z and Millennials: Contrasts in Reading Behavior and Readerly Identity

Published In

The New Americanist

Document Type


Publication Date



Generation Y, Generation Z, Reading, Group identity, Consumer behavior, Book industry -- Digital humanities


Identifying as a reader or not-a-reader is about more than reading behaviors. Reading is a social practice and a form of cultural, and readerly, capital (Driscoll 2016), which is why “the reading practices young people engage in are part of their broader social and cultural participation and, consequently, part of a broader project of identity formation” (Sellers 2019). This article presents nationally representative survey data (n=2075) of Gen Z and millennials residing in the U.S. who don’t identify as readers (“not-a-readers”) to examine the complexity of bookish and non-bookish identity and its connection to reading and media consumption habits. Additionally, this article examines other bookish and nonbookish reading behaviors and identities of Gen Z and millennials to contextualize readers and not-a-readers. We surmise that people are more likely to decline identifying as a reader if the reading they do is not part of their social communities.

Our nomenclature: Not-a-readers is about identity; non-reader is about behavior.

Surprisingly, not-a-readers are still readers and actually read more than the general survey population when it comes to print books. They visit libraries at rates close to those of readers. People who identify as readers, writers, and fans share some of the same interests in story, but their behaviors are quite different depending upon whether that identity is connected or not to bookish communities. This article addresses larger questions about 1) what counts as reading, and how reports about reading that center book reading miss emergent swaths of activity; 2) the tension between readerly identity and reader behavior; 3) how not-a-readers discover books; 4) how other identities such as writers, fans, and “pirates” intersect with readerly identity.


© Edinburgh University Press



Persistent Identifier