Researchers at London’s Institute of Education have found that children who are avid readers reap the rewards well into adulthood. The participants of the study who were avid readers as children scored significantly higher on vocabulary tests as adults.
“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,” lead author Professor Alice Sullivan told The Telegraph. “In other words, they developed ‘good’ reading habits in childhood and adolescence that they have subsequently benefited from.”
The study tested the vocabulary of 9,400 British people by asking them to match words to their meanings throughout their lives from age 10 to 42. Avid childhood readers scored and average of 67% at age 42, while participants who didn’t read for pleasure as children scored 51%.
However, not all texts are created equal when it comes to building lifelong vocabulary skills. Choice of reading material affected how well participants scored on vocabulary tests.
Readers of “high-brow” literature, such as award-winning novels, improved the most between the ages of 16 and 42. Also, participants who read quality newspapers, whether in print or online, improved more than participants who did not read newspapers.
Tabloid newspapers proved to be almost worthless in enriching vocabulary. In fact, participants who read tabloids scored worse than participants who never read any kind of periodical. Tabloid readers scored 57%, while people who didn’t read newspapers scored 61% and readers of quality newspapers scored 76%.
“A number of these findings are intriguing,” said Professor Sullivan. “It was interesting, for example, to find that readers of tabloid newspapers did less well in the age 42 vocabulary tests than those who didn’t take a newspaper.
“This is, however, in line with our previous work which showed that the presence of tabloid newspapers in the home during childhood was linked to poor cognitive attainment at age 16.”
The study is forthcoming in Longitudinal and Life Course Studies.