Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

home-books

(Photo: BarracudaDesigns/Shutterstock)

Books in the Home Are Strongly Linked to Academic Achievement

• May 27, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: BarracudaDesigns/Shutterstock)

Test scores from 42 nations provide evidence of the benefits of having a home library.

With the school year ending and report cards being issued, plenty of parents are no doubt wondering what they can do to boost their children’s academic performance. Newly published research suggests there is a simple and effective answer: Build up your home library.

“We find that books in the home have a positive payoff in improved test scores throughout the world,” writes a research team led by University of Nevada-Reno sociologist Mariah Evans. “The relationship is strong, clear, and statistically significant in every one of the 42 nations (we studied).”

Evans made this same point in a 2010 study, which found “home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment.” Her new research confirms that conclusion using data from even a larger number of nations—42, rather than the 27 in the earlier report.

It also rebuts critics who contend that having books in the home “merely signals children’s elite status to gatekeepers, who then grant them unjust advantages.” To the contrary, Evans and her colleagues find books “especially benefit children from disadvantaged families.”

“Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to the home library helps children do better (on the standard test).”

“They enhance the academic performance of children from families as all educational and occupation levels,” the researchers write, “but the enhancement is greater for families with little education and low-status occupations.”

Evans and colleagues Jonathan Kelley and Joanna Sikora examined data from the Program for International Student Assessment, a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Academic achievement of participating students (most of whom were 15 years old at the time of the study) was determined by a test that the researchers describe as “carefully designed, comprehensive, structured to minimize class and ethnic bias, and anonymously graded.”

Data was also collected on family demographics, as well as the number of books in the student’s family home. (There was no information available on the specific types of volumes.)

The results were unambiguous: “Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to the home library helps children do better (on the standard test),” Evans and her colleagues report.

This held true even after parents’ occupations and education level and family wealth were taken into account. What’s more, the effect was consistently found in both rich and poor nations; in countries with economic systems that lead toward capitalism and socialism; and “in Asia as well as Europe and the Americas,” they add.

Within nations, “The gains are not equally great across the entire cultural hierarchy,” the researchers write. “They are larger at the bottom, far below elite level. Each additional book has a greater impact on the performance of someone who only has a small home library than it does on the performance of someone from a home overflowing with books. The second book and the third book have much greater impacts than the 102nd or 103rd.”

Still, that 100th (or 500th) volume says something important about the household environment.

“A home with books as an integral part of the way of life encourages children to read for pleasure and encourages discussion among family members about what they have read,” Evans and her colleagues write, “thereby providing children with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, wide horizons, and skills for discovery and play.”

They concede that their research leaves something of a chicken-and-egg question: Are books in the home merely an indication of that sort of “scholarly culture,” or does their presence create an intellectually stimulating family environment?

While the answer isn’t clear, the researchers point to recent research suggesting that “books themselves do matter.”

“If so, a strong policy recommendation in favor of book drives is justified,” they conclude, adding that providing children’s books to young mothers may be a very good idea.

Being read to, reading for yourself, discussing what you’ve read—that’s the sort of positive spiral that can lead to greater academic achievement years down the line. The Cat in the Hat may turn out to be the catalyst between the covers.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.


Follow us


Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.