Are Readers Nerds?

Article excerpt

Some people think that readers are nerds, "book-worms" who don't get out much, don't do much, and are simply boring, dull people. The research, however, does not agree with this characterizaton. In fact, the results of a number of studies of adult readers show that readers are "active and social" (Bradshaw and Nichols, 2004).

Table 1 presents data originally published in 1982, from Zill and Wingate (1990), comparing literature readers (those who reported reading "any creative writings, such as stories, poems, plays and the like" for the last 12 months), those who read any kind of a book or magazine, and those who reported no reading. The results are remarkably consistent, with readers reporting being more active in all categories.

We cannot, however, conclude that reading is directly associated with being active and social. As Zill and Wingate point out, the amount of leisure reading done is also closely associated with education and affluence (for confirming data, see Bradshaw and Nichols, 2004). It may be the case that those who are more affluent have more time and money to engage in these activities. (This is probably not the case for visiting museums. Bradshaw and Nichols (2004) present a multiple regression analysis showing a relationship between reading and visiting art museums and attending performing arts events, even when income and education were statistically controlled.)

To control for education, income and other related variables, we approached the question in a different way: The subjects in our study came from one social class, children in schools with high levels of poverty (90% or more free or reduced price lunch). All children were in grades four and five in four different schools in Austin, Texas.

We present here the results of only one item from a longer questionnaire we asked the children to fill out. We asked the children about people they knew who read a lot, whether they were "not interesting and fun," "kind of interesting and fun," or "very interesting and fun."

As presented in tables 2 and 3, the results are clear and consistent. Very few children felt that readers were not interesting and fun, and about two-thirds felt they were very interesting and fun. The percentages are nearly the same in all four schools and in both grades.


Our question was somewhat vague. We did not indicate to the children whether "people I know" referred to children or adults or both. Nevertheless, the results suggest that the results of previous findings are not simply an artifact of income and affluence. Attitudes may change as children get older, but our data suggests that fourth and fifth graders do not think that readers are nerds. …