The life-long benefits of reading for pleasure

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Author: Alice Sullivan
Date: Spring 2015
From: School Librarian(Vol. 63, Issue 1)
Publisher: The School Library Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,571 words
Lexile Measure: 1350L

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How does reading for pleasure, both in childhood and in adulthood, influence the development of our vocabularies through adolescence and into mid-life? This is the question that my co-author Matt Brown and I set out to answer using the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70). We wrote two papers on our findings, the first addressing vocabulary development up to age 16, and the second looking at vocabulary growth in adulthood, between the ages of 16 and 42.

BCS70 follows the lives of everyone born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week in 1970. We interview the cohort members every few years in order to keep track of many different aspects of their lives, from education and employment through to physical and mental health. This makes the study particularly powerful, because we are able to look at what influences the development of individuals' lives over time. Over 9, 800 people responded to the survey last time we interviewed the 1970 cohort, which was in 2012, when the cohort members were 42 years old.

Reading for pleasure and attainment at 16

The first issue we looked at was the role of reading in intellectual development up to age 16. It won't surprise anyone that bright children tend to read for pleasure more than their less bright peers. But does reading for pleasure actually increase the rate of children's learning? The BCS70 study members took a range of cognitive tests at age 16. We compared children from the same social backgrounds who had achieved similar cognitive test scores at ages 5 and 10. We discovered that those who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gained higher test results at age 16 than those who read less regularly. In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both for vocabulary, spelling and mathematics. And reading for pleasure made a very substantial difference--around four times greater than the difference made by having a parent with a degree compared to having parents with no qualifications.

Reading clearly exposes young people to new vocabulary, so the link between reading for pleasure and vocabulary development is to be expected. The link our research has shown between reading for pleasure and progress in maths may seem more surprising. However, I would suggest that reading introduces young people to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A405924683