The Centre for Longitudinal Studies in the UK, based at the Institute of Education at the University of London, released a working paper in the Fall of 2013 by Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown on the importance of leisure reading. The researchers examined a uniquely powerful dataset, the British Cohort Study, which was a large-scale nationally-representative sample of individuals who were born in Britain in the year 1970. These individual have been systematically contributing data since that time, including measures of vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics. Based on around 6,000 individuals, the analyses by Sullivan and Brown found that reading--reading for pleasure specifically--was an important predictor of improvement in test scores between the ages of 10 and 16. Reading books and newspapers during this period accounted for an increase of 14.4 percentage points in vocabulary scores, 9.9 points for math scores, and 8.6 points for spelling. Most importantly, these increases are observed after controlling for other important factors, such as the social background and reading habits of the participants’ parents. Also of interest was the fact that parental education played an important role in improving cognitive performance, much more so than parental resources (e.g., income). This appears to implicate a culture of learning as a more important factor for cognitive development than socioeconomic status. What makes this study particularly remarkable is its large sample size and longitudinal nature. Its conclusions greatly reinforce how important reading, reading for pleasure during leisure time specifically, is for a wealth of critical cognitive factors.
Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2013). Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. A working paper for the Centre of Longitudinal Studies.
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile).
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