bookworms versus couch potatoes


RED STATES - - Where heavy book-buying exceeds national average.

ORANGE STATES - - Where heavy T-V viewing exceeds national average.

T HERE MAY BE PEOPLE WHO READ LOTS OF BOOKS AND ALSO WATCH LOTS OF TELEVISION , but divide the nation up according to areas with the heaviest concentrations of people who do one or the other and U.S. geography seems to form itself into two distinct archipelagoes. In the map above, the United States is segmented into what are known as “areas of dominant influence”—that is, the major television markets. The map shows the ADIs in which the percentage of people who buy twenty or more books a year is above the national average, and those in which the percentage of people who watch enormous amounts of television (for men, thirty-four or more hours a week; for women, thirty-nine or more hours a week) is above the national average.

Not surprisingly, the key variable that separates book-dominated from TV-dominated ADIs is the average level of education. People who buy books tend disproportionately to have college degrees and also to have incomes above $100,000 a year and houses that cost at least $200,000; when they’re not reading, they are more likely than the average American to participate in such activities as skiing, hiking, and playing racquetball. Because well-educated people have been more likely than most other Americans to join the migration to the high-tech boomtowns of the West, book-buying in the western states is relatively heavy. Also, the amount of time spent watching television  the West is depressed by the fact that women in western states are more likely to have jobs than are women in the eastern states, and by poor signal reception in some sparsely settled areas.

The people who log the most time in front of the television set are located disproportionately in the South and are more likely than other Americans never to have finished high school. They are a sedentary bunch in other respects, too. While heavy television viewers are more likely to live in mobile homes than other Americans, they also are among the Americans who least frequently change their address. Heavy viewers are more likely than the average American to smoke cigarettes, to drink signiflcant amounts of beer, wine, and liquor, to entertain at home, and to travel by bus if they take a pleasure trip.

The one area of overlap between heavy hook buyers and heavy television watchers, in south Florida, reflecting the fact that the demographic disparities there are among the most extreme in the nation. —Michael J. Weiss.


The ATLANTIC Monthly

October 1989. (Pg. 81.

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