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Why our kids need books at home

Although there’s undoubtedly a self-congratulatory element at play, avid readers will say they’ve long believed what a study across 27 nations has confirmed: having books at home is extremely important for children. According to the study’s abstract, “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. This is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father. It holds equally in rich nations and in poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism, capitalism, and Apartheid[.]”

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Australian National University and UCLA over a 20 year period and data from more than 70,000 people. It concluded that the difference between being raised in a home without books compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education).

But a 500-book library isn’t necessary. Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada-Reno said that as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on how far a child goes with their education — and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

There is, of course, some variation among the nations studied. In some countries, such as China, having 500 or more books in the home results in 6.6 years of additional education. In the United States, that figure is 2.4 years, less than the study-wide 3.2-year average advantage but still an important gain. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home.

Still, the bottom line is that getting books into the hands and homes of children is crucial for educational success. Some of us are fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by books. Not all children are so lucky. Yet because the ultimate return on our investment is so enormous, we need to figure out more and better ways to get books into the hands and homes of children.


Wear the old coat, and buy the new book.

Austin Phelps, The Theory of Preaching

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