Reading as a youngster ‘pays off later in life’

Children who always have their nose in a book are likely to end up with a better vocabulary as adults, research has found.

Reading for pleasure during childhood has a “substantial” impact on language skills later in life, according to the study.

It suggests that individuals who develop a love of reading as youngsters are likely to continue the habit, which boosts their vocabulary range.

And what someone chooses to read does make a difference, with readers of “highbrow” fiction, such as Jane Eyre or the works of Charles Dickens, gaining a wider range of words.

The study, published by the Institute of Education, analysed the vocabulary test scores of more than 9,400 British people at the ages of 10, 16, and 42.

Those taking part were asked to pair a given word with one that has a similar meaning from a list of five possibilities. For example, which of these words — “several”, “common”, “obvious”, “ancient”, and “absurd” — has a similar meaning to “typical”.

The study found those who read regularly for pleasure at age 10 scored around 67% in the vocabulary test at age 42, while those who read infrequently as children scored around 51%.

It said regular readers tended to come from more advantaged backgrounds and have higher vocabulary scores at ages 10 and 16, but even when this was taken into account, there was a gap of nine percentage points at age 42 between those who had been regular readers as children and those who had not.

“The long-term influence of reading for pleasure on vocabulary that we have identified may well be because the frequent childhood readers continued to read throughout their twenties and thirties,” the researchers said.

“In other words, they developed ’good’ reading habits in childhood and adolescence that they have subsequently benefited from.”

A survey as part of the study found that reading is a popular hobby for adults, with around one in four saying they read books for pleasure every day.


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