Benefits of growing up in a book-oriented home

When you teach a person to read and write, you are giving them the power to communicate with other people and interpret the world they live in. Despite the undeniable importance of literacy as the bedrock for education and progress, the positive spill overs from ‘environmental conditioning’ of children is in the process of being fully understood.

A recent study undertaken by Joanna Sikora at the Australian National University sought to determine how growing up in a book-orientated environment affects long term educational achievement. Using data from 31 societies, the study drew on 160,000 individuals involved in the “Programmefor the International Assessmentof Adult Competencies” (PIAAC). The PIAAC ultimately surveys the skills of adults relating to proficiency in key information-processing skills, such as – literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.

book-oriented home 2Research Findings:

  • Being “bookish” creates cognitive benefits independent of educational and occupational standing. That is, individuals who were surrounded by books from a young age- but did not attend university- were just as literate as someone who attended university, but didn’t grow up around books.
  • Books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving. More is not necessarily the better, in this case- having around 80 books at home raises adolescent literacy levels to the average- while having about 350 or more books, has not shown significant literacy gains.
  • Sizes of home libraries vary from society to society. In Norway, the average number of books at home was 212 and in Sweden was 210. In Chile or Singapore, the numbers dropped down to 52 books and in countries such as Uganda the number is 0 books.


book-oriented home 3

Looking to the future

Professor Sikora adds that: “We must consider the possibility that as knowledge societies move towards digital literacy and numeracy, the consumption of printed materials and books will become obsolete as an indicator of scholarly culture. For now, however, the beneficial effects of home libraries in adolescence are large and hold in many different societies with no sign of diminution over time.”

In this context, the work of organisations such as World Literacy Foundation becomes even more valuable. By providing access to literacy resources and materials that can begin to simulate this “bookish” environment to children that cannot afford them, they are not only providing people with literacy, but also the foundation for skills to help them succeed beyond their childhood and bridging the education gap in the world.

Research: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X18300607

Author: Reza Teimory

WLF Volunteer