Great news: Teens are writing the equivalent of two novels per year

[Note: At the end of this post, you’ll find my standard warning about any post here (or article, anywhere) that includes statistics.]

Wow. Just when you think kids aren’t writing much, along comes a report from Nielsen suggesting that today’s American teens could be the most prolific generation ever (or, at least, they are until someone can find plausible statistics on how many words teenagers produced in a written form per month before Nielsen found clients willing to pay for such research).

While showing a preference for writing using mobile devices instead of pencil and paper, today’s U.S. teens, nonetheless, average sending or receiving 3,339 written messages per month.


“That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake – an 8 percent jump from last year. Using recent data from monthly cell phone bills of more than 60,000 mobile subscribers as well as survey data from over 3,000 teens, The Nielsen Company analyzed mobile usage data among teens in the United States for the second quarter of 2010 (April 2010 – June 2010). No one texts more than teens (age 13-17), especially teen females, who send and receive an average of 4,050 texts per month. Teen males also outpace other male age groups, sending and receiving an average of 2,539 texts. Young adults (age 18-24) come in a distant second, exchanging 1,630 texts per month (a comparatively meager three texts per hour).

So, let’s go to the calculator and see what that means.

Let’s assume the following for this pseudo statistical exercise:

Assumption #1: 1 text (t) message = 4 words

I’ll admit that 4 words is a conservative number as a very convincing argument could be made that I’m discounting the obvious skills today’s youth have for packing the meaning of 10-12 words into a text message by using creative acronymic strategies.

Assumption #2: Teens average writing 1,670 texts per month (T)

This assumption is based on the logic-argument that if teens average sending or receiving 3,339 texts per month, at least 1/2 of those texts are sent. I can, however, see a flaw in such an assumption as one can send a text to multiple individuals. However, as Nielsen’s statistics did not take this into consideration, I’ll also ignore it.

Assumption #3: The minimum word count of a novel is 40,000

Granted, 40,000 may be on the low side as Tolstoy’s War & Peace contains between 460,000-560,000 words, depending on the translation. But when it comes to emerging book formats (emerging meaning anything announced in the past 72 hours), Kindle Singles are between 10,000 – 50,000 words.

So, here’s the math:

T = Number of text messages per month
W = Number of words per text
12 = Number of months per year
P = Annual Prolificacy (how many words produced per year)

Formula: (T x W) x 12 = P

Using Nielsen’s survey and my assumptions:

(1,670 x 4) x 12 = 80,160

There you have it. Even without giving them bonus points for using acronyms for multiple words (something that could increase the total word count by several factors), the average American teen writes (totally extracurricularly and without being forced by parents or teachers) 80,168 words per years.

In other words:

Without being coaxed by parents or teachers, the average American teen “writes” enough words per year to fill two novels.

I know you share my pride in such an accomplishment.

Keep up the good work, kids.

[Standard RexBlog warning on posts that include references to surveys, research reports, statistics or anything attributed to “an economist” or “a professor”: The 12 people who regularly read the stuff I write know that one of my bedrock beliefs can be summed up in the following statement: “Never blog about statistics unless it proves something you believe.” Reporters who, despite doing everything possible to avoid statistics courses in college, find that half the stories they are assigned are based on press releases filled with survey results that are spun to support whatever point of view the press release releaser wants to spin. Recently, one of the most brilliant parodies of how non-technical reporters (specifically, those who write for the BBC) cope with such assignments appeared in a column by Martin Robbins on (which is how they brand it, so I won’t say, “The Guardian’s website.”) So, bottom line: Everything I’ve written in this post is rubbish, unless it proves a point you already believe.)]