Growing Up Surrounded by Books Could Have Powerful, Lasting Effect on the Mind
A new study suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas.
At The Bee’s Knees Toys and Books, we love a shelf full of books. It’s a lovely sight and can hold hours of entertainment. Besides the fact that books are fun to look at and interesting to have around research has proven that reading books improve brain function, reduce stress, and even make us more empathetic. Now, a new study suggests that homes with ample libraries can arm children with skills that persist into adulthood.
The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Respondents were asked to estimate how many books were in their house when they were 16 years old. The research team was interested in home library size can as a good indicator of what the study authors term “book-oriented socialization.” The surveys showed that the average number of books in participants’ childhood homes was 115, but that number varied widely from country to country. The average library size in Norway was 212 books, for instance; in Turkey, it was 27. Across the board, however, it seemed that more books in the home was linked to higher proficiency in the areas tested by the survey.
The effects were most marked when it came to literacy. Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels. Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off. The researchers observed similar trends when it came to numeracy as skills improved with increased numbers of books.
So, what are the implications of the new study? Take, for instance, adults who grew up with hardly any books in the home, but went on to obtain a university degree in comparison to an adult who grew up with a large home library, but only had nine years of schooling. The study found that both of their literacy levels were roughly average. “So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes up for a good deal of educational advantage,” the study authors write.
Further research is needed to determine why exposure to books in childhood fosters valuable skills later in life. The study offers further evidence to suggest that reading has a powerful effect on the mind. And so home library size might be important because, as the researchers note, “children emulate parents who read.”
Original article written by Brigit Katz, published in Smithsonianmag.com.