Why are we reading? – National Reading Survey

What motivates you to pick up a book? In our latest article exploring findings from the National Reading Survey, we look at why readers read.


The National Reading Survey by Australia Reads collected data from more than 3,000 Australians across two groups of respondents:

  • ‘General readers’ from multiple panel sources, collectively representative of Australian state and gender populations over 16 years of age;
  • ‘Engaged readers’ sourced from e-newsletter subscribers of Australian publishing houses and social media followers of Australia Reads – meaning they engage with book related news.

From these responses, researchers delivered the following findings about why we read:


People read for pleasure and enjoyment 

The overwhelming top reason respondents from both survey groups (60% of general readers and 92% of engaged readers) read books is ‘for pleasure and enjoyment’. This result aligns with the 2019 Creating Our Future National Arts Participation Survey conducted just prior to the pandemic, in which 72% of Australians aged 15 years and over (14.8 million) had ‘read at least one printed book, e-book or listened to an audiobook for pleasure’.


Reading to relax and unwind 

The second most common reason both survey groups (58% of general readers and 76% of engaged readers) read books is ‘to relax and unwind’. 

This aligns with the most common responses people gave when asked when they most often find the time to read. Just over half of Australian readers (52%) usually find time to read books right before bed. Weekends are also prime reading time, with 41% of respondents nominating this as when they usually find time to read or listen to books. And 29% find time to read on holiday when they have less demands on their time from daily life.


Reading to keep our brains active 

The third most common reason both survey groups read books is to keep their brain active (47% of general readers and 56% of engaged readers) and to keep ‘mentally stimulated and engaged’ (43% of general readers and 70% of engaged readers).


It’s not because it’s cheaper than going out! 

The least popular reason for reading given by both survey groups was ‘it’s cheaper than going out’. This option was selected by a minority of readers (9% of general readers, 5% of engaged readers), and interestingly foreshadows the perception of both groups that books are expensive (see our article on what stops people reading).


  • These findings demonstrate the potential power of emphasising the pleasure and enjoyment derived from reading a book, in order to promote the act of reading (rather than particular titles), especially as an antidote for dissatisfaction, discontentment and depression. 
  • Campaigns could also utilise messaging around reading as a way of relaxing and unwinding – especially in the lead-up to weekends and holiday periods – and citing research showing that reading does help us to relax physiologically (for example, lowering heart rate, reducing tension, extending breathing). 
  • The data around when we read also points to an opportunity for those looking to support and grow a reading culture, to think about bedtime reading campaigns, books at bedtime and/or reading storybooks out loud as a family.

Read the key findings or full report of the National Reading Survey (2021) to find out more.