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

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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