Want your children to go further in their education—high school, college, maybe more? Want them to earn more as adults? Here’s one key predictor of educational attainment and earning power. Is it IQ? Is it economic status?
No, it’s the number of books in the home. That’s the finding of a 20-year study conducted in over twenty-seven nations and published in the June 2010 issue of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. The conventional wisdom among researchers has been that the education of parents was the key factor. But having as few as twenty books in the home can have a significant impact. Having five hundred books means children will on average pursue two to six years more education depending on the country.
Researcher Mariah Evans said, “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book.’ It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”
What was the bang for the book in my household? I grew up in a home with books. Not a lot of books, but enough. My brother and I had bookshelves above our beds, lined with a few dozen volumes. We had bookshelves in the basement holding mass market paperbacks and a few somewhat more sophisticated titles.
And I remember the day the encyclopedia salesman came to our home. We received a special bookcase for the two dozen or so volumes of the 1957 (or maybe it was 1959) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And yes, from time to time, for school reports but also out of idle curiosity, I found myself pawing through those volumes as a grade schooler.
Did it make a difference in how much education my siblings and I ended up with? While our dad completed college and our mother didn’t, my sister and I both did. My brother made up for the two of us by finishing not one but two advanced degrees, a Ph.D. first (in Old Testament), followed by a Masters (in computer science). So maybe there was something to the books in our house.
Now, the study would be validated even further if editing just paid more.