For advocates of reading, it can be frustrating to convey the benefits of something so seemingly fundamental to policy-makers and others focused on the economic bottom-line. Thankfully, a fascinating new study by Stuart Ritchie and Timothy Bates at Edinburgh University has found that early reading ability predicts socio-economic status (SES) later in life. The researchers examined data from the National Child Development Study, which is based on a sample of 17,638 infants born in 1958 in the United Kingdom. For their study, Ritchie and Bates explored the available data from early periods when the participants were about 7 years of age (N = 15,425), 11 years (N = 15,337), and 16 years (N = 14,647). This was then used to predict the SES attained as an adult when most participants were around 50 years of age (N = 11,419). Importantly, their analysis took into account early SES environment by controlling for the SES of the participants’ parents. Other important variables were also controlled for, such as intelligence (measured at age 11), academic motivation (measured at age 16), and overall length of education (measured at 42). What they found was that early reading ability at age 7 predicted adult SES at age 42, controlling for parental SES, intelligence, motivation, and amount of education. This direct effect, however, was only observed for females and not for males. For both sexes, however, indirect effects were observed, in which reading led to better intelligence, academic motivation, and more education, which in turn predicted a higher SES. Notably, these results were demonstrated to be independent of mathematics ability (measured at age 7), which itself had similar direct and indirect associations with adult SES. Although this study cannot support strong causal inferences, the longitudinal nature of this data and the control of possible alternative explanations coupled with the large sample size make for some very compelling data. Early reading ability, it seems, is associated with later economic success, which provides a convincing counterpoint to arguments that the path to success lies only in the hard sciences.
Ritchie, S. J. & Bates, T. C. (in press). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status. Psychological Science.
Copies of the original article are available from Raymond Mar upon request (see profile for e-mail).