The new study, led by Jean M. Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, looked at data taken from Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study that surveys a nationally representative sample of approximately 50,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students annually.
The researchers analyzed the survey results from 1976 to 2016, which includes responses from more than 1 million teenagers, and found that digital media use has increased substantially in recent years, with 12th-graders spending two hours per day on the internet during their spare time in 2016, compared to one hour per day back in 2006.
Internet use has also increased for younger users, up 75% for 10th graders and 68% for eighth-graders in the same period.
In contrast, reading rates have dropped significantly, with the team finding that less than 20% of US teens now report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure.
While 60% of 12th-graders said they read a book or magazine almost every day in the late 1970s, just 16% reported daily reading in 2016.
And although 33% of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper almost every day in the 1990s, by 2016, this number had dropped to just 2%.
However, more than 80% of teens reported using social media every day.
“Compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television,” said Twenge, “Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV.”
However, with the rise of e-books and digital devices, the researchers were surprised to find that reading had dropped so steeply. “It’s so convenient to read books and magazines on electronic devices like tablets. There’s no more going to the mailbox or the bookstore — you just download the magazine issue or book and start reading. Yet reading has still declined precipitously,” said Twenge.
Even time spent watching television and movies has declined, although not as drastically. In the 1990s, 22% of eighth-graders reported watching five or more hours of television per day compared to just 13% in 2016. Twenge was also surprised that the number of teens going to the movie theater declined only recently, adding that the rise in streaming sites seems to be the cause.
“Blockbuster Video and VCRs didn’t kill going to the movies, but streaming video apparently did,” she said.
The research can be found published online in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.