Why are adults still reading YA books?
Despite the fact that YA books are nominally targeted at kids ages 12–18, industry data suggests that the majority of YA book purchases are actually made by adults, and most of those adults intend to read the books themselves. This data appears to run counter to expectations; why do so many adults read YA literature? What about the genre captures their attention?
In her thesis “Why Do Adults Read Young Adult Books?,” Monica Hay (2019), a researcher at Portland State University, conducted a survey of over 2,000 adults to determine why so many adults ages 18–34 read YA literature. Participants were found through social media, both through general pages and specific groups.
The results indicate that the majority of respondents preferred YA literature. Nearly all respondents read both YA and adult literature, but 57% of respondents reported reading more YA than adult literature, with 11% claiming the reverse and about one-third (32%) reading the two genres equally. Interestingly, when asked about which genre they liked more, respondents were nearly evenly split between liking YA most (45%) and liking both equally (48%). Few (7%) preferred adult literature. “It seems that relatability is a large part of millennials’ interest in YA; the younger generation is not connecting with adult books as easily, and so YA is where they turn.”
So why do adults read YA books? The top reasons included “Fun to read” (80% of respondents), “Content is interesting” (73% of respondents), and “Plots are faster paced” (53% of respondents). Most often then, the reasons were related to content.
Notably, only about one-third of the respondents (34%) felt that the books were more relatable than adult literature, meaning that the majority of them were reading the stories despite identifying with them less. Given this statistic, it is not surprising that the vast majority of respondents (96%) were interested in a “New Adult” genre of literature targeting characters between ages 20–30 (Hay 2019, 38). As Hay observes, “It seems that relatability is a large part of millennials’ interest in YA; the younger generation is not connecting with adult books as easily, and so YA is where they turn” (19).
Despite being less relatable than adult literature, adults seem to enjoy the content and framework of YA literature. Understanding that YA literature’s main appeal to adult audiences is in engaging content leads to two distinct conclusions.
First, when publishers choose which YA titles to create or publish, an emphasis on fun content, interesting content, and fast-paced plots may enable publishers to better reach the adult market. When marketing YA literature for adults, leaning into fun narratives might have better returns than focusing on more serious topics. While this strategy will not be a fit for all YA books, it may allow publishers to reach both the YA and adult markets at once.
Second, given adults’ preferences for a “New Adult” genre, adults that prefer YA fiction over adult fiction appear to be a market not currently being served by publishers, leaving readers to read YA to fill the gap. With so many adult readers purchasing YA literature, publishers and editors alike have a market that is underserved and looking for representation. It is up to publishers—and writers—to give them something that they want and need.
To learn more about why adults read so much YA, read the full thesis:
Hay, Monica. 2019. “Why Do Adults Read Young Adult Books?” Master’s Thesis, Portland State University.
—Dylan Parker, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY STOCKSNAP
Find more research
Look at this study from Publishers Weekly (2012) for an understanding of just how large the YA market for adults is: “New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults.” Publishers Weekly. Accessed March 14, 2022
Read this study by Caroline Kitchener (2017) for more information on reasons why adults are flocking to YA: “Why So Many Adults Read Young-Adult Literature.” The Atlantic. Accessed March 14, 2022.