2005 February 24 Thursday
Most Mexicans Rarely Read Books

Books are unpopular in Mexico.

Despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces about 2,000 fewer titles each year. There are roughly 500 bookstores in Mexico, which translates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association. A recent UNESCO study revealed that Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes finish that many every month.

The Mexican government has made great strides, reducing illiteracy to less than 8 percent, compared with around 20 percent two decades ago, placing it leagues ahead of Central American countries and even beyond Latin America's other economic powerhouse, Brazil. Yet it has had little success encouraging active reading.

Bookstores are a lot like America to most Mexicans: a foreign alien land.

But, some argue, the European countries already had a public predisposed to reading. "For the majority of Mexicans, bookstores are a completely alien place," says Jesus Anaya, editorial director at publishing house Grupo Planeta. Although more titles and lower prices would certainly appeal to current readers, he doubts they'll create new ones. "I'm not sure that waving a magic wand of fixed prices can bring this cadaver to life."

Of course this is consistent with average Mexican immigrant academic performance in the United States. Over 4 generations there is no trend of improvement in academic performance though the first generation native born descendants are an improvement over the average 8th grade educational level of the initial arrivals. America is a first world country with a highly productive and developed economy. That economy has a declining demand for low skilled manual laborers as demonstrated by a continually widening gap between the most and least skilled and as a result wages at the bottom end are not keeping up with average wage increases. The most developed economy in the world does not need immigrants who do not like books.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 February 24 08:43 PM  Immigration Societal Decay

PacRim Jim said at February 24, 2005 10:32 PM:

Mexicans are not stupid. They know that thousands of legal and illegal books are free on the Web.

Kenelm Digby said at February 25, 2005 2:24 AM:

Of course, the simplest explanation is the best.Most Mexicans can only read very poorly, if at all.

Brenda said at February 25, 2005 11:05 AM:

Hey, when traveling in Mexico I remember seeing many people reading -- comic books. (Or do they call them "graphic novels" there?)

Mexicans keep telling us that they are an "indigenous" culture. We should believe them.

LPG said at February 26, 2005 9:27 AM:

How many books do Americans read? In the course of my job, I had the occasion to visit many homes of various races, nationalities, religions, economic status etc. Books were rare in most homes. TV's VCR's DVD's etc. were everywhere regardless of economic status. Lower middle class homes had the biggest and most prominantly placed TV. Incidentally, my Jewish friend has not read a book in over twenty years. I would guess that a small percentage of any (group) buy and read most of the books anyway. In the golden age of 20th century literature...Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Faulkner were avidly read by all classes of people and many popular magazines existed for the purpose of printing short stories. They were as popular as the tabloids of today, but consisted of words not pictures.

gcochran said at February 26, 2005 12:08 PM:

We have about 4,000 books around the house, last i looked, but we may be atypical.

lindenen said at February 26, 2005 12:22 PM:

We have a huge number of books as well. The difference in number of bookstores between the US and Mexico really says it all though. The difference is so large that it makes me question just how literate the "literate" are in Mexico.

do said at February 26, 2005 2:28 PM:

Yes, but isn't the question really not whether you're reading but what?

Brent Anderson said at February 26, 2005 4:59 PM:

Steve Sailer, looking at Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment, has made the point that Latin America is noticeably unproductive in producing much creative thought and accomplishment that's been long lasting.

eh said at February 28, 2005 4:06 AM:

Most books published or sold in Mexico are no doubt in Spanish. But a portion of Spanish speakers in Mexico are illiterate. Also, Mexico is in its own way diverse, and a significant number of people there speak some indigenous language, or a dialect that has developed over the years. They are also illiterate. Unfortunately for the US, this is also a class issue, and immigration to the US is largely from the lower classes, i.e. people who are more likely to be Spanish speakers but not Spanish readers or writers, or non-Spanish speakers.

The class of Mexicans descended from the Spanish are quite literate (in Spanish), as is a (much smaller) portion of the Mestizo or Indian population.

Stuka said at March 6, 2005 9:11 AM:

On a recent week-long visit to Puerto Vallarta, I found not one book store. Even the locals couldn't refer me to one.

Misteri said at March 10, 2005 7:39 PM:

Mexicans with temporary work visas for America are hard-working and honest unlike the unemployable 30million lazy, dumb and useless African-Americans with US citizenship. Americans do not appreciate the differences between Latin countries or the differences within those countries e.g between north & south Mexicans.

EduardoJG said at March 31, 2008 10:31 PM:

In Mexico people are POOR, and like someone pointed out previously in this forum, there are lots of natives who DO NOT speak Spanish as their first language. Anyway, taking into account the Spanish speakers ONLY, most people are still poor and don't have money to get a good education, nor to buy books, and people that work all day long to earn SHIT and strive to barely survive hardly have any time to read, or any desire to do so after a day of 14 hours of labour.
HOW can anyone expect for people in Mexico to read as much as people in Europe or the US or Canada, if the price of the books are roughly the same, but the per-capita income of the population is more than 3 or 4 times lower?!
People buy books in the US partly because of their obsessive-compulsive-buying disorders, and because they can't find anything else to spend their money on after they already have more TV's at home than family members. Having bookstores that sell is not indicative of how much people read, specially in the US where, as I said, people are highly inclined to buy a bunch of shit they will never use (more so than in any other nation in the world).
If we take the ratio of economical development and growth and the amount of bookstores per-capita into account, Mexico is actually better off than the US.
The US is the largest economy in the world yet it is very FAR away from being the most educated country or the one with the most readers. THIS IS AN EMBARRASSING FACT. The economy of the US is 15 times larger than that of Mexico, and yet the number of bookstores per citizen is only 5 times bigger. Most of the highly educated people in the US, are NOT from "US-origin"; an indication of this is the fact that 50% of people that enroll in PhD studies in American universities are foreigners! Needless to say: There aren't enough smart and hardworking people in the US to fill in these positions, and the success of research is greatly due to the minds and the work of foreigners.
It is an embarrassment for the richest country in the world to have the amount of stupid people it has:
At least third world countries can blame it on poverty derived from historical events, or from having first world countries fuck them up all the time (as IRAQ!)... But what excuse does the US have? NONE. It's an intentionally ignorant and fucked up society who has elected for two consecutive terms a right-wing fanatical, George Bush, who likes to spend money on war instead of education.
So all you WHITE TRASH AMERICANS, don't even start criticizing other countries without noticing how full of shit yours is first...
And don't get me wrong: I like the US, and there's tons of nice people here. I even feel some sort of love for this country (yet I'm originally mexican). I'm just very SAD to see how badly screwed up it is. SO SAD.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2008 9:19 PM:


You exaggerate Mexico's poverty. The average per capita GDP in Mexico is far above the world's average. Mexico's per capita GDP is about a quarter of the US. That is pretty high. When the US per capita GDP was the same as Mexico's is today at that time a much higher percentage of Americans read books. Most Mexicans could afford to buy books if they really wanted to read them. They obviously have little interest.

Dave Klein said at October 19, 2008 5:04 PM:

Mexicans have one of the most anti-intellectual cultures I have ever come across. They lack the fundamental intellectual curiosity that is necessary to promote a culture of reading. This is perhaps why many foreigners can come to Mexico and can become very successful in Business, as many Arab and Jewish millionares have filled a void and essentially control all of Mexico, rather than the Spanish, Mestizo, or Indian population.

I will also remark that their television programs are quite superficial and lack any depth.

Que te importa said at February 24, 2009 5:15 PM:

It seems to me that all of you stupid "americans" don't know a shit about Mexico and other countries in Latin America. First of all, as you are americans, all of us, from Canada to Brazil, ALL of us are americans too.

Secondly, maybe you the "americans" earn much more than a mexican do if you work in Mexico. Most of the population lives in a poverty situation, maybe they earn 20 dolars a week (and in their community they're rich). So, as you don't want immigrants who don't like books (maybe they can't afford them), we DO NOT WANT "AMERICANS" THAT DO NOT SPEAK SPANISH.

You americans feel the masters of the world, and you are so fucking wrong!!!! The first economy my ass, if not, ask EUROPE dork

It's a shame that some of you show your worst part to the world, affecting all of your population, as I know some "americans" that are very good people, not as you

AmericanNearBorder said at July 19, 2009 4:04 PM:

Mexicans have very little intellectual curiousity, but prefer to be passive and victims to others. Thus they do not develop a historical or cultural conversation and improve their reasoning and logic.

John P. said at February 19, 2010 5:57 PM:

There are many synonyms for Mexican: lazy, intellectually incurious, dirty, shiftless, corrupt, drug-pushing, obnoxious, and...my favorite....FUCKING RETARDED. There is one major reason why the United States is a world power and Mexicans live in the land of shit - CULTURE. PERIOD. If you don't understand how culture impacts country's and their economies, then you are a FUCKING RETARDED LIBERAL like Pelosi and Reid. Do I sound angry - YES. I think Americans have become a band of pussies that are too cowardly to stand up for their own country. All American's care about are themselves and their own little worlds - Fuck my neighbor to the right and left: it's all about ME. This country will fall, mark my words, and we will be a textbook lecture 100 years from now about how multiculturalism destroyed one of the greatest countries in the world. Let's not forget, by the way, that early immigration was by Europeans. Yes, dumbshit liberal, they had different cultures but they were compatible. Europe is much like the U.S. today. Is Mexico? Anyone who is not a dumbfuck liberal would say no. So.....countries are built by compatible people with compatible cultures - Mexicans need not apply - they've been shit for 100 years, they'll be shit for another 1000. PERIOD. P.S. Prove me wrong in 50 years if Mexico and Mexicans are "better". Fuck.

Beanner said at February 23, 2010 9:02 AM:

"Mexicans have very little intellectual curiousity, but prefer to be passive and victims to others. Thus they do not develop a historical or cultural conversation and improve their reasoning and logic."

We mexicans try to, but there are too many dictators in forums always ready to suppres uncomfortable ideas, like the ones i've staded in this forum which have been deleted because they are uncomfortable for Randall.

This dictators only aim at reinforcing already held dogmatic political beliefs. How can there be new knowledge when there isn't room for critical analysis or free enquiry?

Bob Badour said at February 23, 2010 9:58 AM:

Randall?!? Randall actually deleted a comment?!? Really?

Hey Dude, High five!

Oh wait, Beanner wasn't shouting in all-caps was (s)he?

Beanner said at February 24, 2010 10:31 AM:

"Oh wait, Beanner wasn't shouting in all-caps was (s)he?"

Shouting in all-caps? I don't know what "shouting" in all-caps mean, but no, I wasn't. Although, I still wonder what is worse, shouting in all-caps with a message or racist intolerance without a message. Or even censoring uncomfortable ideas! Talk about Tacky, tasteless, medieval dictatorship. Really arcaic. I'd better not type "archaic" in capitals as there are so many oversensitive people who don't realize all-caps might sometimes be necessary to convey an idea with a little emphasis. What's the obsession with banning capitals anyway?

However, I don't think this message will tear any eardrums, will it Bob?


Beanner said at February 24, 2010 10:41 AM:

I really think it has nothing to do with all-caps or even insults. And I mean, John P's message -4 above this one- is a clear evidence that all-caps and insults can stand with no problem.

Deleted comments here, are really due to an inability to tolerate diversity of ideas. That is called censorship.

Before facts, no arguments stand.

Beanner said at February 24, 2010 10:53 AM:

I mean, gosh! I just wonder if a beanner has a legitimate right to defend from what is a stupid, racist stereotype entitled "Most Mexicans Rarely Read Books"

Many beanners read quite a few books -many of them including great American authors too- like Noam Chomsky, Carl Sagan, Ron Paul, etc. We have two or three elementary schools in Mexico, you know. And also -sacrilege!- most beanners also understand and speak more than one language at a good level too.

Now on the matter of who drinks more coca-cola americans or beanners, I would have to guess it would be a tie.

Bob Badour said at February 24, 2010 12:17 PM:

There's your problem right there: You think Noam Chomsky is a great American author.

There's a difference between some all-caps and all all-caps. Randall tends to the tolerant side and allows a little all-caps. As far as I know, he mostly censors spam and all all-caps.

But, hey, if he's censoring you for the unthinking mindless drivel you post, then good on him. Seriously, though, I doubt it.

"I like the one that says some pulp." - Tony Soprano

Randall Parker said at February 24, 2010 5:42 PM:


I delete comments which are entirely ALL CAPS. If a few phrases are ALL CAPs then I usually do not delete them.

As for the title of the post: Is it inaccurate? Can you produce some evidence to the contrary?

I ought to delete a lot more comments than I currently delete. But I'm really busy researching new posts on two blogs and do not have enough time to read every comment let alone delete all the stupidest ones.

So far you've managed to add no useful content here yourself. Evidence from real data is my definition of useful content.

Beanner said at February 27, 2010 5:52 PM:

"As for the title of the post: Is it inaccurate? Can you produce some evidence to the contrary?"

So what's yours Randy? There's no evidence from anybody in a web forum. It's just ideas and of course some quotes from really poor sources, like the one you produced from Coppel. Coppel! Jeezzz! Evidence? Are you kidding me? How has anybody here "produced" any evidence?

"I ought to delete a lot more comments than I currently delete"

Why exactly would you do that Randy? You are not on FM radio. This is not open air-antenna tv. This is internet, world wide web, and this is an open forum, isn't it? I mean it's not like we require membership or keyworkds, right? If this page required a keyword like many other, then I would just leave it alone because it would be an idea-reinforcement club. But you provide this OPENLY, for everybody in the world.

No Randy, don't be mistaken. I produce ideas; ideas you and Boby just dislike because I dissagree with many of them. I have fundamental dissagreement but I produce ideas. And if I dissagree is because many of your ideas are subjective -OPINION-. If you produce objective ideas that have to do with KNOWLEDGE I will have to agree.

So this is censorship. And like I say, it is archaic.

Let me post my ideas, even if you dissagree with them. I follow the conversations. I might not agree with what you say, but I will always defend the right you have to say it. (I think it was Voltaire who said that) But that's another silly author for Boby, right?

Beanner said at February 27, 2010 6:12 PM:

"There's your problem right there: You think Noam Chomsky is a great American author"

So Boby, why don't you tell us who the good authors are? Perhaps Buckley? Perhaps Og Mandino? At least I have the courage to say who I like... Just mention one or two. By the way I also quoted Carl Sagan, Ron Paul, didn't I. Tell us Boby who is a great author?

Also please tell me what is "spam" to you? Because I think that by spam, you mean dissagreement. As you see, unlike you, I ask, in an attempt to be not so dogmatic. By the way sometimes I've agreed with you and Randy. Is that spam too?

Ask Boby, ask. Asking works. As you can see, beanners also read American authors. Would you like me to quote more American authors that I've read? I have also read British, Russian, French, Hindu, Latin American authors. I mean Randy wants evidence, so this is the closest anybody here can come up with one agains the dumb stereotype against Mexicans.

Have you read any Mexican authors? How many? There are quite a few and very interesting too. See Randy posted this heading after this Beanner asked if anybody here (American) speaks any language other than English. Nobody said I do. Like I said, while the rest of the world is interacting, learning languages, reading, becomming cultured, many Americans continue to isolate themselves from the world.

I look forward to reading your author list, and you're welcome to get back to me in Spanish if you like...

Beanner said at February 27, 2010 6:16 PM:

And again Boby, because you didn't answer the question: Since when are your European ansestors Native Americans? Please explain that to me. Pretty please? You can also use all the folkloric insults that you so much like to formulate, if that suits you...

Randall Parker said at February 27, 2010 11:33 PM:


You've written 6 comments here, they are all still visible above, and you call that censorship.

Your questions: I am too bored to answer.

Bob Badour said at February 28, 2010 6:55 AM:


I would put Joseph Heller at the head of my list of Great American Authors. He's followed closely by a horde too numerous to fully enumerate here but would include the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Clemens, Herman Melville, Nathaniel West et cetera. Voltaire was a great French author.

Spam are comments with links to advertising sites selling "male genital enhancement", loans and mortgages for the uncreditworthy (click it quick--it won't be there long), and essay writing services. You mostly don't see spam because Randall does a good job cleaning them up.

anonymous said at June 8, 2011 3:52 PM:

Hello, there. Well, you know? Im mexican. Im NOT POOR. I have 14 years old and I read over 80 books per year.(I have the list) So I think you should stop stereotypes. We are not guilty for being mexicans. Yes, theyre poor mexicans as long as theyre smarts mexicans as long as theyre rich mexicans and stupid mexicans. And theyre poor americans, as long as theyre smart americans and stupid americans.
You wouldnt be so happy if you were mexican, and I insult you, right?

Anonymous said at May 19, 2012 10:25 AM:

wow, what a bunch o racist people in here

Nancy said at January 9, 2013 2:25 AM:

I am appalled by the amount of racism and ignorance that many of the comments on this article display. But before making any further comments on that, I will respond to the article.

Before reading the last paragraph, I found this article to be very informational. It is the conclusion that truly bothers me. I am bothered by the way Mexican immigrants are all grouped together without distinction of how they entered the country (legally or illegally) and for what purpose. You seem to imply that all Mexican immigrants are bad for your country. I'd like to argue with that. The issues that you bring up - mainly a decrease in need for manual labor,- seem to apply to illegal immigrants who go to the United States in search for manual labor jobs, and the less prominent legal immigrants who move for the same reasons. However, your article speaks of Mexican immigrants in general. I'm a Mexican immigrant currently coursing my sophomore year at one of the top 10 universities for my major (architecture) in the United States. My cumulative SAT score was 2060, compared to the average American student's 1450 score. Do you truly believe that I am harming your country by moving there to pursue my studies and possibly a career in the future? I find myself constantly being one of the few students attending classes to which attendance is not mandatory. I read very little for leisure during the school year as taking 18 credits on a work load heavy major while maintaining a job as a Resident Advisor for 30 freshmen girls and being an involved member of various clubs and organizations leaves little time for leisure anything. However, I try to read as much as possible during breaks to make up for lost time. I absolutely love reading. I currently have 36 books on my to-read list. While most of my reading is not of impressive depth or sophistication, I do believe my current reading (the Fountainhead) to be far superior in quality to what many people my age seem to be interested in at the moment (such as 50 Shades of Gray). By sharing this information about myself, it is not my intent to brag, but to illustrate the type of immigrants you may not be considering. In my college experience so far, I have found foreign students to consistently be some of the most academically oriented and involved people on campus. I urge you to consider how the United States can benefit from immigration.

I think an important issue to adress is the way socioeconomic factors affect these statistics. I have had multiple first-hand experiences that have proven to me how much lack of access due to economic factors has to do with this problem in Mexico. Books are a luxury. Not everybody in Mexico is poor, yet even middle-class families usually have to make hard choices on how to spend their extra money. While in high school, I volunteered with multiple Mexican reading advocacy organizations, and found that when given the resources, Mexican children will take advantage of them. I have visited public elementary schools during lunch breaks and had up to 15 kids cram onto a picnic table to listen. I have seen the use that students gave to a small lending library we built for a local public school. For two years I volunteered every monday for a mobile library in an impoverished neighborhood and saw children who attended every Monday for years. I had a boy once tell me that his favorite thing to do was read bedtime stories to his two younger siblings. Since these children don't have laptops or xboxes, some of them will spend all of their free time reading. I know a girl who checked out 10 books a week for years (at some point she had read every book we had available for her age range, at which point she began to reread them). Maybe they aren't official statistics by some internationally recognized organization, but to me, these experiences are all the proof I need that Mexican children are just as curious and can fall in love with reading just as much as anybody else as long as they can get access to books.

Zamman said at January 10, 2013 3:20 PM:

It is not the amount of books that defines a person's culture; it is the quality of the authors and contents. Mexicans in general read very few books, which is a lot better than reading a lot of worthless books. Of course some Mexicans read none, just like some Americans.

This has nothing to do with Mexicans, Americans, French or Arabs, but with individuals. You can have, for example, an American that might read 20 books by Stephen King in one year, while a Mexican can read only one or two books by Stephen Hawking; and guess what, those 2 or 3 great titles by Hawking will do a lot more for the Mexican than the American's 20.

I believe that even though both authors' names are similar, the difference in quality of their respective books is phenomenal, as Stephen King writes mostly crap. Popular crap.

As with nutrition, so it happens with a person's mind: It can also grow obese from large amounts of junk. Americans -generally speaking- suffer from physical and mental obesity and therefore mental malnutrition.

Tell me what a person reads and I'll tell you how cultured he is. The amount of books he has read will tell you nothing about the person's culture.

Randall Parker said at January 12, 2013 1:39 PM:


Books are cheap, even for most Mexicans. Mexico has a quarter of the per capita GDP of the United States. That's quite high by world standards. Mexico's per capita GDP today is about where the United States was in 1950. How many people in 1950 America did not read books because they couldn't afford them?

Today the economic hurdles in the way of reading books are lower than ever. There are so many ways to read books cheaply: Libraries, used book stores, online used books (very cheap), and online sites that have free downloadable books that have gone off copyright. I read lots of free books as well as lots of cheap books. People can also pass around books to each other when they are done with them. Amazon has thousands of free books.

The Fountainhead: Good for you. Then read Atlas Shrugged.

If you are as smart as you say then you are much smarter than the average American or the average Mexican. In that case I welcome your presence here. I want smart immigrants, smart citizens.

Architecture: Study architectural engineering or some other engineering discipline that pays better. Architecture has far too many architects chasing too few design jobs.

Tequida said at February 14, 2013 1:24 PM:


Books in Mexico are not that cheap, let me give you some examples on that:

On the George R. R: Martin Series, A Song of Fire and Ice, a series that started in the late 1980's and got into sudden public interest due to the HBO series has a price tag of $400 pesos for the latest reprint of the book, which by the way are papaerback, this roughly translates into $30 USD (sales tax already included). Now this are large books, not the "pocket" edition, the pocket edition of this books and in english have a price tag of $300 pesos, about $23 dollars, again theese are paperback.

On the book series of Armando Fuentes Aguirre, "Catón" (a well know and respected journalyst), on the Other Story of Mexico, a series of books about historical mexican figures and the lies about their achievments and "heroics" are tagged at $240 up to $300 pesos on paperback editions.

And the list will go on, and you must also consider that the minimun wage for Mexico was at $62 pesos for a day, now a days take one eigth of that for the hourly minimum wage. While in the US the minimum wage is at about $8 USD (about $96 pesos an hour), which means the minimum daily income in the US is just about 12 times more that Mexico.

Also, the books from George Martin, have a price tag in the US of about $15 dlrs, that's nearly half as much as what it costs in Mexico, and don't get me started on prices for spanish translated books in the US vs spanish translated books in Mexico, because the rate is about the same, twice as much or more.

So, no Randall, books in Mexico are technically a luxury because of the high prices and low income.

Randall Parker said at February 14, 2013 8:24 PM:


What about books on Amazon? I go to amazon.mx and get rerouted to amazon.com.

Also, can you buy from the US and get stuff shipped to Mexico? I would think NAFTA makes that easier to do. I have certainly bought stuff in Canada for delivery here.

Tequida said at February 19, 2013 4:33 PM:

You can buy from Amazon, and if you live near the borderline then that's fine, how ever, should you need to take this further into the country then you would need to pay a fee to import the item and the shipping & handling in the country (not sure how much that is), unless you are carring it when crossing the border you could save the import fee but not the shipping (unless you live near the borderline, which is my case). Also you must consider that in Mexico most people don't know about amazon.com or other similar services so they have to go to bookstores to get the books they want (if they really want the book).

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2013 9:44 PM:


I'm looking at internet access costs in Mexico. Seems affordable for a substantial fraction of the population. 30% of Mexicans have internet.

Books online seem like the solution: Amazon sells a Kindle Armando Fuentes Aguirre, "Catón" book in Spanish for $9.99. Amazon has lots of cheap Spanish language books. Here are some free Spanish language books. And here are some more free Spanish language books. And here are some more free Spanish language books.

Of course, to someone like you and a few commenters here from Mexico who speak English the available supply of free English language books is enormous. I've got lots of free and cheap books on my Kindle, tablet, and PC.

What about libraries?

Mark said at February 20, 2013 1:34 PM:

Wow, so many crybabies. Mexicans don't read and apparently for a lot of posters on here this translates to USA = BAD/EVIL, Mexicans = Saints. Facts can be awkward folks.

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