Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, a newly completed, decades-long study shows that children who grew up in a home with 500 or more books stay in school three years longer than kids whose parents only had a few books, and that children whose parents have lots of books are 20 percent more likely to finish college:
For comparison purposes, the children of educated parents (defined as people with at least 15 years of schooling) were 16-percent more likely than the children of less-educated parents to get their college degrees. Formal education matters, but not as much as books.
From the paper:
Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class … Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in schools.
Even a relatively small number of books can make a difference: A child whose family has 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than a child whose family is sadly book-less.
It’s clear that having books is merely representative of something larger: a desire to understand, question, and get answers. And that desire dovetails perfectly into what school does, when it’s at its best, so it’s no wonder kids who grow up in a “scholarly culture” are more likely to stay in school.
I wonder, though, whether this “buy books” mantra will simply lead middle-class families to fill their shelves with “classics” that they may or may not read. And, more importantly, it seems like this study just confirms why the haves succeed and the have-nots don’t. Most disadvantaged families just don’t have the resources to cultivate a “scholarly culture.” After all, books are expensive (and we already know that it’s more expensive to be poor), and it takes time — time a single working parent may not have — to read books.
But I am curious about how a library membership fits into this study. Is the question merely the number of books your family owns? How much weight is placed on the number of books you actually read? Would growing up in a home with 500 romance novels be as beneficial as a weekly trip to the public library?