May 25, 2010
Scientists prove books in the house make kids smarter
by Valerie Merians
A huge new study just out — “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations” — published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, says just having books in the home is as important in determining a child’s educational success as the parents’ education level, according to this report in the Nevada News by Claudene Wharton.
Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.
For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.
Evans is particularly interested in the benefit for children of lesser-educated parents. “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed,” she says. “Even a little bit goes a long way.”
The study found that, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”
Evans tells the News, “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’. Itâ’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”
According to the News report:
The study by Evans and her colleagues at Nevada, UCLA and Australian National University is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain.
The researchers were struck by the strong effect having books in the home had on children’s educational attainment even above and beyond such factors as education level of the parents, the country’s GDP, the father’s occupation or the political system of the country.
Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level, and more important than whether a child was reared in China or the United States. Surprisingly, the difference in educational attainment for children born in the United States and children born in China was just 2 years, less than two-thirds the effect that having 500 or more books in the home had on children (3.2 years).
Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.