Growing up around books provides lifelong benefits, study says

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The more books a student has at home, the better will be their skills in adult life.

Photo: Bigstock.

Living in a house full of books is more productive than we thought, especially for kids and young people in their school years. Dr. Joanna Sikora and a group of researchers, backed by the Australian National University, found out that a diverse home library has the potential of helping teenagers develop similar skills to those of a college student with an average reading habit.

The team analyzed data from the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, in which 160,000 people from 31 countries participated between the years 2011 and 2015. The evaluation asked people how many books were in their homes when they were 16 years old; the researchers also tested their abilities in literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology.

Those who during adolescence had few books at home scored below average in these areas; those who said they had approximately 80 books got a mild performance and, in most cases, the more books they had, the better, until they reached a mark of 350 books, at that point, there was no significant difference reported in skills.

Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational and occupational attainment.

According to the study, Europe fared better than other continents in terms of size and diversity of home libraries. The average number for Norway was 212 books, Sweden reported 210, Estonia 218, and the Czech Republic 204 books.

The lowest numbers were found in Asia and America. Turkey reported an average of 27 books per household, Singapore and Chile reached 52. The academics recognized the need for further research to know more about the link between the size of a home library and the development of cognitive skills, but they emphasized that it was beneficial, according to their results.

“Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational and occupational attainment,” explained Dr. Sikora on why cognitive abilities were linked to the number of books at home. She also mentioned that a diverse library could also enhance people’s skills to navigate digital content and be critical about it. We can infer from this, that the era of physical books is not as near its end as we thought.

Other skills that can arise with an extensive home library are empathy and social awareness, as confirmed by another study conducted in Italy. Researchers concluded that children who have read books that include a diversity of characters are prone to develop empathy, and a better grip on aspects like consideration of others, respect, and equality. The psychologists who authored the research used the Harry Potter saga as their example since this literary work describes a world with different social groups and races, such as wizards, muggles (not magical humans), elves, werewolves, poltergeists and more.

Books are an essential part of outside school learning for kids and young people, it helps them develop their own version of the world and triggers the conversation that keeps them awake, critical and eager to learn. It is crucial to choose these books carefully since they are the key to a prepared and skilled next generation.