Idea that Net is killing book reading can be filed under fiction

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The biggest threat to the past-time of reading is not the internet, but the increasing lack of leisure time, according to one of the largest surveys into the nation's reading habits.

The biggest threat to the past-time of reading is not the internet, but the increasing lack of leisure time, according to one of the largest surveys into the nation's reading habits.

Reading the Situation, a survey of 2,400 people in 900 households, found the long-heralded death of the book is still fictional. Britain remainsa nation of book lovers, with novels and non-fiction books read in 90 per cent of homes.

On average, adults read books for five hours a week. Fifteen per cent read for at least 11 hours.

The survey, conducted by Book Marketing Ltd for the Arts Council-funded agency The Reading Partnership, found that despite competition from the internet and increasing pressure on leisure time, 80 per cent of respondents claimed to be reading for about the same amount of time or more than they were five years ago.

"Considering reading has the biggest audience of any cultural activity, it's bizarre how little solid information we have had up to now about reading in people's lives," said Debbie Hicks, a co-author of the study. "I think we were aware that there was a lot of interest in reading, but we've been surprised by the way people almost go through cycles in terms of how and what they read."

Fears that children were growing up more interested in technology than books seem to be unfounded. Perhaps prompted by the success of books like the Harry Potter series, children read for an average of four hours a week.

Even among the very young, however, the study found that there was a gender gap in reading habits. Girls were much more likely than boys to read nursery rhymes or poetry (63 to 37 per cent).

After the age of 11 or 12, it found children's enthusiasm for reading tails off, particularlyboys', so that by the time they leave school, many are not reading for leisure at all.

Boys are far more likely than girls to say they don't read books because they spend their leisure time doing things such as sport or because they "just don't enjoy reading".

Reading among men only picks up again as they approach middle age. Women tend to read more, though that dips significantly when they have a young family, increasing again as the children get older.

The survey found women are more likely to plead lack of time or a preference for magazines. Magazines are seen as a more convenient, less demanding form of reading, better suited to looking after children or working long hours.

"Time is a major factor," Ms Hicks said. "But also we found that women tend to feel guilty about taking time out to read a book but felt fine about watching television."

It also found that men and women read for different reasons. While male readers are likely to say they read to improve their knowledge, women are significantly more likely than men to read as a way of relaxing, as a chance to "escape".

They are far more likely than men to discuss the books that they read and to act on recommendations. Men are less inclined to trust the judgement of their peers when choosing books, preferring to take the advice of reviewers. They tend to be more cautious about choosing a book and less willing to try a book or author that they are unsure they will like. Women were far less concerned than men about making a "wrong choice" and did not mind giving up on a book if they found they were not enjoying it.

For most people, "more leisure time" was the only thing that would make them read more books.

"Since there is little sign that leisure time will increase," the report concludes, "it may seem that little can be done to increase the amount of book reading taking place."

Around a fifth of people say they would read more books if they were able to afford to buy more, while around half as many again would read more if there were better books available in the library.