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What the young and old spent on reading materials: 2019 vs. 1984

Naturally, reading the free FRED Blog doesn't count

FRED now has data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Surveys, which are used to keep the consumer price index (CPI) up to date with the current basket of goods and services bought by households. Here, we use that survey data to analyze spending on reading materials.*

The FRED graph above shows spending on reading for seven age groups in 2019. Hover over the pie chart slices to see how much each age group spent relative to the total for all age groups. In 2019, persons between 25 and 34 spent the least and persons over 75 spent the most.

The second FRED graph shows the same age groups but from 1984. Back then, persons under 25 spent the least, but persons 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 spent the most. Because the dollar figures for these expenditures in each pie chart aren’t adjusted for changes in the cost of living, we can’t compare the dollar amounts in 2019 with those in 1984. To do that, we need to use the formula described at the bottom of this post.

Nonetheless, we can compare the different expenditure shares across age groups. While in 1984 overall spending on reading was more or less evenly divided across persons from age 26 to 74, by 2019 almost a quarter of it was done by persons older than 75. The growth of digital media and its uneven adoption across age groups could help explain the changing spending on reading.

*Reading includes subscriptions for newspapers and magazines; books through book clubs; e-books and digital reading material; and the purchase of single-copy newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and encyclopedias and other reference books, per https://www.bls.gov/cex/csxgloss.htm.

How these graphs were created: Search for and select “Expenditures: Reading by Age: Under Age 25.” From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” tab to search for “Expenditures: Reading by Age: from Age 25 to 34.” Repeat the last step to add “Expenditures: Reading by Age: from Age 35 to 44,” “Expenditures: Reading by Age: from Age 45 to 54,” “Expenditures: Reading by Age: from Age 55 to 64,” “Expenditures: Reading by Age: from Age 65 to 74,” and “Expenditures: Reading by Age: Age 75 or Over.” Next, use the “Format” tab to change graph type to “Pie.” To show data from different years, edit the date above the graph canvas.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo and Maria Arias.


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