HarperCollins, the UK’s number one publisher of young adult books, has revealed new and compelling research to better understand how the reading habits of 14 – 25-year-olds impact their identity and wellbeing, at a time when young people are experiencing significant mental health concerns.

  • Young people who strongly identify as a reader report higher levels of happiness and better mental health
  • Despite 79% of 14–25s saying reading makes them feel happier and recognising its importance for mental health, only 16% read for pleasure daily or nearly every day
  • Readers of all ages are turning to young adult fiction as a source of self-care, with almost one in three readers of the category aged over 28

One of the most revelatory results was that an astonishing 29% of 14–25-year-olds strongly think of themselves as a reader, with young people increasingly building an identity around books and finding a bookish community online. A shared appreciation of reading with friends makes young people feel more comfortable identifying as a reader, and means they continue to prioritise reading during busy or stressful times. The report also highlighted how having a positive self-identity linked to reading is closely tied to better mental health. This is evident in the fact that 40% of young people who answered ‘very true’ to the statement ‘I think of myself as a reader’ described themselves as ‘very happy’. In contrast, among those who do not think of themselves as a reader, 21% described themselves as ‘very happy’.

Alison David, Consumer Insight Director at HarperCollins, said, “Our new research suggests wellbeing comes from more than the act of reading (relaxation, escapism, the content itself). The psychology of being a reader is enormously powerful. What we can take away from these powerful insights into the reading habits of 14-25-year-olds, is that having a sense of self that is linked with reading clearly leads to greater happiness and better wellbeing. Given the high levels of mental health problems among children and young adults, it’s clear that helping them find the joy in reading is more important than ever.”

Over half of 14-25-year-olds have felt anxious in the last twelve months, peaking among women aged 18-25 of which two in three experience anxiety. As a result, reading books is increasingly being used to improve wellbeing and mental health, with 79% of 14-25-year-olds saying that reading makes them feel happier. The correlation between reading for pleasure and happiness is also evident in the number of 14-25 year-olds who reported feeling ‘very happy’ in general, which increased from 18% for those who never or rarely read to 39% for those who read daily.

“Reading is a form of self-care as it allows me to unwind and relax” - 18-21 year-old medium reader

The association between reading for pleasure and wellbeing is also reflected in the growing popularity of young adult books, with readers of all ages increasingly turning to YA as a source of comfort, nostalgia and self-care. Since 2019 more 23–27-year-olds are reading YA fiction, as many experience behavioural changes described as ‘emerging adulthood’, which sees young people growing up more slowly and delaying ‘adult’ life. The feelings of instability and being ‘in-between’ may contribute to anxiety and mental health issues, with young people turning to young adult fiction as a ‘safe space’ as a result. Appreciation for young adult novels spans well into adulthood, with one in three readers of YA being over the age of 28.

“I’ve been reading YA since I was 14, so it’s been about 8 years now…it’s a life I can never live but it’s nice to see it through the eyes of others!”22-25 year old heavy reader

Although the vast majority of young people recognise and experience the benefits of reading, the research showed only 16% of 14-25s read daily or nearly every day for pleasure. Many activities compete for and erode leisure time, from schoolwork and studying to digital entertainment. At 14-17 boys are disengaged from reading, with 38% saying they rarely or never read for pleasure and 55% of boys and 63% of girls say they have too much schoolwork to read books for fun.

Cally Poplak, Managing Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books and Farshore, said, “It’s really encouraging to see this movement of young people finding themselves in books and experiencing the tangible benefits that identifying as a reader brings. But the vast majority of young people are not reading every day. How do we tackle this contradiction that today’s young people, who are already being referred to as the ‘anxious generation’ know reading is good for them, but still aren’t picking up books. How can we give more young people that experience of being part of a community and building a joyful reading habit for life? It’s never too late to experience the magic reading brings.”

Despite low levels of reading overall, there is an enthusiastic, keen YA readership among some teen girls and young adult women and romantasy was the biggest literary genre of 2023, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Two in three 14-25-year-olds have been reading more over the last few years. Of those who have been reading more, one of the top reasons they are increasingly reading books is to escape screen time. This came in at 24% for 14-17-year-olds, rising to 32% for 18-25-year-olds. Two out of three 14-25-year-olds worry about the time they spend in front of a screen, with a strong preference for printed books over digital. 86% of 0–17-year-olds and 79% of 18–25-year-olds say they like printed books, much higher than those who like eBooks (27% and 33% respectively). This is reflected in the growing association between reading with self-care, with young people romanticising their reading experience through settings – from a cosy bedroom to a coffee shop – and appreciating the tactility and aesthetic of a physical printed book in those settings.

“I use YA to get away from the screens, it’s easy to get sucked into that social media hole, so it’s good to take a break” - 22-25 year-old heavy reader

“I love a physical book as it allows me to completely forget about my phone” - 22-25 year-old medium reader

Looking for YA recommendations for the young people in your life? Scroll down to find a selection of the best new YA titles, plus some brilliant old favourites that they may have missed.