Functions of reading and adults' reading interests.
In literate societies, book reading plays a vital role in the lives of many adults. For example, findings from the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) of 1992 indicated that 96% of American adults reported reading books during the previous six months, with 17% reading every day (Smith, 1996). A survey of adults' reading habits in 15 European Union Member States in 2001 found the percentages of European adults reporting having read books within the last 12 month ranged from 15% to more than 50% across 15 member states (Skaliotis, 2002). Yet, little is known about adults' reading practices, since, as defined by Kirsch and Guthrie (1984), studying reading as a practice involves gaining a better understanding of how people interact with qualitatively different types of materials for a variety of uses and functions. Researchers have established that students and adults read in their free time for enjoyment, knowledge, relaxation, social integration, development, utility, escape, or keeping abreast of current events (Greaney & Neuman, 1983; 1990; Kirsch & Guthrie, 1984; Lewis & Teals, 1980; Steinberg, 1979; Stokmans, 1999); however, few studies have linked these functions of reading or attitudes toward reading within specific reading categories.
Attitudes toward reading/functions of reading
Lewis and Teals (1980) have argued that secondary school students' attitudes toward reading may be conceptualized multi-dimensionally as consisting of individual development, utilitarian, and enjoyment factors. The individual development function relates to the value placed on reading as a means of gaining insight into self, others and/or life in general. The utilitarian function relates to the value placed on the role of reading for attaining educational or vocational success or for managing in life, and the enjoyment function relates to the pleasure derived from reading. Later, Ley (1994) and Michell and Ley (1996) utilized the Teale-Lewis Reading Attitudes Scale, and both found that American secondary school students reported valuing reading most because of its utilitarian purposes, and less because of its individual development or enjoyment purposes.
On the other hand, Greaney and Neuman (1983; 1990) have conducted two cross-cultural studies on young people's views of reading. In the first study, they adopted the uses and gratifications approach to explore the functions of reading for students in the third, fifth, and eighth grades in Ireland and the United States, and identified three basic functions for reading: enjoyment, utility, and escape. Later, they examined these three functions of reading for children aged 8, 10 and 13 from 13 countries, and found that reading may serve similar functions across a range of cultural settings for 10- and 13-year-olds. In these studies, the utility function incorporates "reading to learn" from both moral and educational aspects. The enjoyment function depicts reading as enjoyable, interesting and exciting, while the escapist function relates to reading in order to relax and to prevent boredom.
For adults, a survey study showed that reading is not a substitute for human contact, but instead, social integration is a motivation to read among adults (Steinberg, 1979). In addition, Kirsch and Guthrie (1984) examined the reading practices for work and leisure with case studies and structural interviews of 99 American adults across various occupational categories. The study found that three uses for reading prevail in leisure time: these adults reported spending 23 minutes per day on average reading for relaxation, 19 minutes per day reading for keeping abreast, and 14 minutes per day reading for knowledge. Moreover, this study suggested that there are relationships between uses for reading and reading materials. First, reading for relaxation was frequently reported for fiction, news in magazines, sports in newspapers, and hobby magazines. Reading for keeping abreast was frequently reported for reading news in a newspaper or magazine, and reading for knowledge was reported for science articles in the newspaper, books on policies, medical handbooks, dictionaries and travel magazines. Finally, Stokmans (1999) operationalized reading attitudes with twenty-four Likert items consisting of four reading functions: enjoyment, relaxation, development and utility in a study of Dutch adults' reading attitudes towards fiction. Then, they identified three separate aspects of reading functions based on reliability and factor analyses: enjoyment, escape and development/utility. The author found that the effect of reading attitudes on fiction reading behavior is mainly attributable to the effect of the enjoyment aspect.
Based on the above literature, the present study aims to examine how functions of reading, including reading for enjoyment, for knowledge, for relaxation, and for social conversation, contribute to adult Taiwanese book readers' practices in each of the twelve categories, using a nationally representative sample in Taiwan. Through establishing the linkages between functions of reading and reading interests, the study attempted to help us gain a better understanding of the nature of literacy.
This study used data from the 2007 Taiwan Social Change Survey (TSCS). The TSCS follows a rigorous set of procedures in questionnaire design, sampling, face-to-face interviews, data cleaning, and data dissemination. The routine survey design includes nationwide, three-stage, stratified, probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling based on household registration data. With more than 89,000 face-to-face interviews completed between 1984 and 2008, the TSCS has become the largest survey series of all general social surveys in the world (cf. Smith, Kim, Koch, & Park, 2006). The response rate for the 2007 survey was 50.7%, which falls within the stable ranges throughout the recent survey years of the TSCS (Chang & Fu, 2004). The national sample was composed of 2,147 respondents, which was representative of the national population. The sample consisted of 50.2% males, with a mean age of 45.70 (SD = 17.19, range = 19~95), and a mean of 10.6 years of education (SD=4.9, range 0-27). The majority of respondents (63.2%) were married, 75.8% lived in urban areas, and 53.3% had full-time jobs.
In the survey, the respondents were asked if they had spent time reading books (not including newspapers and magazines) within the past three years. If a respondent reported that he/she had read any books within the past three years, then he/she was classified as being a book reader for the purpose of this study, and would proceed with the subsequent 12-item battery of reading frequency of specific book categories, and the four-item battery of functions of reading. The 12 book categories were based on the literature review and revised from the reading practice battery of the 1993, 1998, and 2003 TSCS Modules that have surveyed Taiwanese adults' reading interests for more than a decade, and later combined by factor analysis with data from the pilot study. Respondents chose one from four categories that indicated how often they read books in each category: never, seldom, sometimes, and always. The four-item battery of functions of reading was based on the existing Western literature. Respondents chose a category for each item that indicated to what extent they agreed or disagreed: strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, and somewhat disagree.
Twelve sets of regression analyses were employed to examine how four functions of reading variables help explain how often adult Taiwanese book readers read each of the 12 kinds of books. Since previous literature has found age, gender, and education to be related to adults' reading choices (Chen, 2007; 2008; Knulst & van den Broek, 2003; Scales & Rhee, 2001; Sharon, 1973-74; Smith, 1996; Tepper, 2000), these three factors were treated as controlled variables in this present study.
For the purpose of the present study, 1,348 out of 2,147 adults reported reading books within the past three years, and were therefore classified as book readers for further investigation. Among these Taiwanese book readers, the sample consisted of 49.7% males, with a mean age of 40.0 (SD = 14.48, range 19-87), and a mean of 12.9 years of education (SD=3.5, range 0-27) (See Table 1). Most respondents (59.2%) were married, 86.4% lived in urban areas, and 60.2% had full-time jobs. In sum, the book readers tended to be younger and better educated. They were also more likely to live in urban areas and to have work.
The 1,348 book readers were asked, "How frequently do you read books in the following 12 categories in your spare time?" To quantify the responses, 1 was assigned for never, 2 for seldom, 3 for sometimes, and 4 for always, and the means (M) and standard deviations (SD) were calculated. As shown in Table 1, the 12 reading categories, ranging from the most popular to the least, included family/health, culture/travel, entertainment/fashion, consumption/investment, inspiration/religion, bestsellers, science/technology, biography/history, classical/modern literature, comics, kungfu/detective/fantasy novels, and romance novels. These book readers were also asked, "According to your reading experience, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following 4 statements?" Similarly, 1 was assigned for somewhat disagree, 2 for somewhat agree, 3 for agree, and 4 for strongly agree, and the means (M) and standard deviations (SD) were calculated. As shown in Table 1, the extent of agreement for the four statements, ranging from the highest extent to the lowest, were "reading books provides knowledge", "reading books provides more topics for social conversation", "reading books provides relaxation" and "reading books provides enjoyment", respectively.
We employed regression analyses to examine how four variables of functions of reading help explain how often adult Taiwanese read each of the 12 kinds of books, with gender, age, and years of education controlled, as shown in Table 2. For reading romance novels, the regression analysis indicates that reading for knowledge and for relaxation were significant predictors, in addition to gender and age. More precisely, the results show that people who agreed to a greater extent that reading books provides relaxation, read romance novels significantly more often than those who agreed to a lesser extent and those who disagreed; however, people who agreed to a greater extent that reading books provides knowledge, read romance novels significantly less often than those who agreed to a lesser extent and those who disagreed, when all factors were taken into consideration at the same time. Similarly, for the other three book categories that are also narrative in nature, i.e. kungfu/detective/fantasy novels, classical/ modern literature and biography/history, the regression analyses show that reading for enjoyment and reading for relaxation have significant effects. In other words, people who strongly agreed or agreed that reading provides enjoyment and relaxation read them significantly more often than their counterparts, when all factors were taken into consideration at the same time.
Regarding reading inspirational/religious books, reading for enjoyment, for knowledge, and for relaxation were all found to have significant effects, in addition to gender, age, and years of education. Specifically, those who considered reading to provide enjoyment, knowledge, and relaxation read them significantly more often than other people. On the other hand, for three other book categories that are also non-narrative in nature, reading about family/health, entertainment/fashion, and culture/travel, reading for social conversation was found to be the sole significant predictor among the four functions of reading. For the other two non-narrative books, for reading about consumption/investment and science/technology, reading for knowledge and for social conversation were both found to have significant effects.
Finally, for the reading frequency of bestsellers, reading for enjoyment and reading for social conversation were found to be significant predictors, and for comics, reading for enjoyment and knowledge had significant effects. To be specific, people who agreed to a greater extent that reading books provides knowledge, read comics significantly less often than those who agreed to a lesser extent and those who disagreed, while people who agreed to a greater extent that reading books provides enjoyment, read comics significantly more often.
This study found that 62.8% of Taiwanese adults reported having read books within the last three years, while Skaliotis (2002) found the percentages of European adults reporting having read books within the last 12 month ranged from 15% to more than 50% across the 15 member states. This study also found that adult Taiwanese read non-narrative books more often than narrative books, and that "reading books provides knowledge" was the statement they most agreed with, followed by "reading books provides topics for social conversation", "reading books provides relaxation" and "reading books provides enjoyment". In previous studies, Ley (1994) and Michell and Ley (1996) indicated that American secondary school students value reading more because of its value related to attaining educational or vocational success or for managing in life than because of its individual development function or enjoyment function; but Kirsch and Guthrie (1984) found that American adults spent more time reading for relaxation than reading for keeping abreast and reading for knowledge in their spare time. Does this mean then Taiwanese adults are more like American students--i.e. they have a more utilitarian attitude toward reading American adults? Further investigations are invited in this area.
Moreover, this study established associations between various functions of reading and Taiwanese adults' reading interests. First, "reading provides enjoyment" was positively linked to reading six categories of books: kungfu/detective/ fantasy novels, classical/modern literature, biography/history, inspiration/religion , bestsellers, and comics. Secondly, "reading provides knowledge" was positively correlated with reading inspiration/ religion, consumption/investment, and science/technology books, but negatively related to reading romance novels and comics. Thirdly, "reading provides social conversation" was positively linked to reading bestsellers and five types of non-narrative books: family/health, entertainment/fashion, culture/travel, consumption/investment, and science/ technology. On the other hand, "reading provides relaxation" was positively related to inspiration/religion and four types of narrative books: romance novels, kungfu/detective/fantasy novels, classical/ modern literature, and biography/history.
Overall, while the previous research has suggested that reading for relaxation and reading for enjoyment were closely correlated with reading fiction (Kirsch & Guthrie, 1984; Stokmans, 1999), this study found that reading for enjoyment and for relaxation was not only associated with the reading of fiction, but also with the reading of literature, biography/history and inspirational/religious books. Reading for knowledge was reported elsewhere as the main reason for reading science articles, books on policies, medical handbooks, and travel magazines (Kirsch & Guthrie, 1984); but those Taiwanese adults who see knowledge as the main function of book reading tend to read more inspiration/religion, consumption/investment, and science/technology books. These knowledge-seeking readers, however, are less likely to read any romance novels or comic books. One unique contribution of this study is that it identified reading for social conversation as an important motivation for adults to read non-fiction in contemporary society. It provides more evidence to support the idea that social integration is a motivation to read among adults, as suggested by Steinberg (1979). Finally, it is interesting to find reading for enjoyment and for social conversation both contributed to the readership of bestsellers.
Even though this study helps advance the literature on the relationships between functions of reading and adults' reading interest, it is important to acknowledge its limitations. For example, this present study relied exclusively on self-reported data and the responses to the interviews on reading practices may have been affected by social desirability.
Functions of reading prove to be an important factor to consider when distinguishing who reads what. There is a general tendency that adults who see relaxation and enjoyment as the main functions of reading tend to read more books in narrative form. These fiction, literature, biography/history books are helpful in bringing joy and pleasure to daily life, making people relaxed, and helping them to prevent boredom. In contrast, adults who perceive the major function of reading to be providing topics for social conversation tend to read more books in non-narrative form. It is a reasonable speculation that the reason for books related to family/health, culture/travel, entertainment/fashion, consumption/investment, and science/technology being so popular among Taiwanese adults, ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd ,4th and 7th among the 12 categories respectively, might partly lie in their providing information for adults to participate in conversation and enhance social interaction across various life situations. This study extended the existing literature, and studies from other cultures are invited to help shed light on the nature of adults' reading practices.
(Acknowledges: The Taiwan Social Change Survey reported in this study is housed at the Academia Sinica and supported by a grant from the National Science Council, Taiwan, ROC, NSC 96-2420-H001-00. Also thanks to the National Science Council, Taiwan, ROC for financially supporting this work under research grant number NSC96-2413-H-007-001-MY2.)
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Su-YEN CHEN, PH.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Teacher Education National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.
TABLE 1: Summary of variables VARIABLES Means S.D Independent Variables 1.Age 40.0 14.480 2.Gender (1=male) .497 0.500 2=female .503 0.500 3.Years of education 12.880 3.521 4. Reading books provides enjoyment 2.79 0.64 5. Reading books provides knowledge 3.16 0.56 6. Reading books provides relaxation 2.83 0.66 7. Reading books provides more topics 2.85 0.69 for social conversation Dependent Variables l. Frequency of reading romance novels 1.66 .856 2. Frequency of reading kungfu/detective 1.83 .960 /fantasy novels 3. Frequency of reading classical/modern 1.90 .884 literature 4. Frequency of reading biography history 2.05 .921 5. Frequency of reading inspirational 2.30 1.013 /religious books 6. Frequency of reading family health books 2.58 .944 7. Frequency of reading entertainment 2.40 .984 /fashion books 8. Frequency of reading culture/travel books 2.53 .867 9. Frequency of reading consumption 2.33 1.045 /investment books 10. Frequency of reading science 2.24 .974 /technology books 11. Frequency of reading bestsellers 2.27 .973 12. Frequency of reading comics 1.84 .954 VARIABLES MIN. MAX. Independent Variables 1.Age 19 87 2.Gender (1=male) 0 1 2=female 0 1 3.Years of education 0 27 4. Reading books provides enjoyment 1 4 5. Reading books provides knowledge 1 4 6. Reading books provides relaxation 1 4 7. Reading books provides more topics 1 4 for social conversation Dependent Variables l. Frequency of reading romance novels 1 4 2. Frequency of reading kungfu/detective 1 4 /fantasy novels 3. Frequency of reading classical/modern 1 4 literature 4. Frequency of reading biography history 1 4 5. Frequency of reading inspirational 1 4 /religious books 6. Frequency of reading family health books 1 4 7. Frequency of reading entertainment 1 4 /fashion books 8. Frequency of reading culture/travel books 1 4 9. Frequency of reading consumption 1 4 /investment books 10. Frequency of reading science 1 4 /technology books 11. Frequency of reading bestsellers 1 4 12. Frequency of reading comics 1 4 Table 2 Regression analyses predicting reading frequency for the twelve book categories Variables Romance Kungfu/ Classical/ novels detective/ modern fantasy literature novels Gender(M) -.235 *** .135 *** -.027 Age -.304 *** .266 *** .016 Years of -.046 .087 * .226 *** education Reading .049 .101 * .177 *** provides enjoyment Reading -.092 * -.021 .019 provides knowledge Reading .018 -.010 .004 provides social conversation Reading .085 * .087 * .126 *** provides relaxation R Square .152 .131 .147 F(df) 34.386 *** 28.942 *** 33.101 *** (7,1340) (7,1340) (7,1340) Variables Biography/ Inspiration/ Family/ history religion health Gender(M) .128 *** -.096 *** -.210 *** Age .028 .171 *** .123 *** Years of .172 *** .109 *** .143 *** education Reading .118 ** .083 * .021 provides enjoyment Reading .065 .089 * .069 provides knowledge Reading .018 -.031 .123 *** provides social conversation Reading .094 * .078 * -.023 provides relaxation R Square .115 .076 .089 F(df) 24.877 *** 15.685 *** 18.695 ** (7,1340) (7,1340) (7,1340) Variables Entertainment Culture/ Consumption/ fashion travel investment Gender(M) -.178 *** -.063 * .024 Age .304 *** -0.048 .066 * Years of .072 * .246 *** .285 *** education Reading .006 .018 .013 provides enjoyment Reading .000 .O58 .084 * provides knowledge Reading .181 *** .121 *** .095 * provides social conversation Reading -.060 .001 -.049 provides relaxation R Square .183 .118 .108 F(df) 42.843 *** 25.489 *** 23.240 *** (7,1340) (7,1340) (7,1340) Variables Science/ Bestsellers Comics technology Gender(M) .261 *** -.076 * .124 *** Age -.118 *** .269 *** .463 *** Years of .265 *** .236 *** .041 education Reading .015 .097 * .090 * provides enjoyment Reading .075 * .058 -.1ll ** provides knowledge Reading .106 ** .109 *** .056 provides social conversation Reading .001 .005 .053 provides relaxation R Square .243 .257 .248 F(df) 61.353 *** 66.090 *** 63.168 *** (7,1340) (7,1340) (7,1340)
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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