Books are pretty amazing – gateways to other worlds, compact parcels bursting with knowledge. And if you grow up surrounded by books, you’re going to get a bit of a boost in life compared to non-readers.
At least, that’s the conclusion of a new study, which found that teens who leave school before graduating, but have access to books, end up with skills equivalent to those of non-reading university graduates.
Researchers led by sociologist Joanna Sikora of the Australian National University looked at global data, and found that, all around the world, home libraries equip children with life skills in three areas.
“We document advantageous effects of scholarly culture for adult literacy, adult numeracy, and adult technological problem solving,” they wrote in their paper.
“Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational or occupational attainment.”
The team used data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies‘ (PIAAC) survey of adult skills collected from 31 countries around the world between 2011 and 2015.
Over 160,000 adults between the ages of 25 and 65 filled out a survey asking them to estimate how many books were in their homes when they were 16 years old, before undertaking a test that assessed their literacy, numeracy and information communication technology skills.
On average overall, the number of books was around 115 per home, but it varied greatly by country. Norway, Sweden and Czechia, for instance, averaged over 200 books, while Chile, Singapore and Turkey averaged fewer than 60.
But one thing held across all regions: a greater number of books was linked to higher proficiencies.
The most prominent – naturally – was literacy, but numeracy and information communication technology skills were also markedly higher among those who had grown up with around 80 books, compared to households with few.
Interestingly, the effects climb with the number of books, finally plateauing at about 350, the researchers found. (But if you want more than 350 books in your house, by all means do not feel the need to stop there.)
And the results are quite impressive.
“Bookish adolescents with lower secondary education credentials become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“As expected, respondents’ education, occupational status and reading activities at home are strong predictors of superior literacy nearly everywhere, but respondents clearly benefit from adolescent exposure to books above and beyond these effects,” Sikora told The Guardian.
“Early exposure to books in [the] parental home matters because books are an integral part of routines and practices that enhance lifelong cognitive competencies.”
The paper noted that, in the future, the move towards digital literacy and numeracy could lessen the importance of printed books. For now, however, they still seem to maintain quite a large positive benefit, which shows no sign of abating.
The team’s research has been published in the journal Social Science Research.