Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Power of Books

One of my favorite treats every week is to settle in with The Week magazine. My mom got me a subscription a few years ago as a birthday present (Thanks, Mom!) and I’ve been renewing ever since.

The Week is a weekly summary of current events, with balanced reporting on how those events were covered in various print media outlets. (For any given topic, for example, you might get how it was covered by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Sacramento Bee and Slate.com.) The summaries are smart, often infused with a sense of humor, and leave me feeling like I’ve been exposed to both sides of an issue. (And how often does that happen, these days??)

The Week also provides the latest in everything from political cartoons to book reviews to theater openings. They even have a recipe each week. (I’ll admit, I’ve never actually cooked any of them, but they are fun to read.) The Health & Science page is always of particular interest to me, as it spans such a broad range of topics. In the latest issue, this page covered: the likelihood of a large earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, the sex-appeal of lowering your voice, plant-killing earthworms, the distracting effect of overhearing only one-half of a phone conversation, and the correlation between having a potbelly and getting Alzheimer’s.

And this study: the surprising effect of books in the home.

According to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, an associate professor of sociology and resource economics at University of Nevada, Reno, a home filled with books has a significant impact on how many years of education children will ultimately attain.

The exciting part of the study was the finding that even barely literate parents (defined as having 3 years of education) can increase the level of education their children will attain by having as few as 20 books in the home. “Even a little bit goes a long way,” Evans said. The finding offsets the commonly-held assumption that having highly-educated parents is the greatest predictor of what level of education children will attain. It turns out that parents who have a limited education can achieve similar results simply by filling their home with books.

Evans's study collected data from 27 countries, including the United States. On average, having a 500-book library in the home was just as influential as having university-educated parents—both factors increasing children’s educational levels by 3.2 years.

Few of us, to be sure, have the resources to buy and store 500 books. But anyone in America (and in many other countries) has something just as powerful: a library card.

3 comments:

Linda Zajac said...

I think every book store needs to post a copy of that article.

Vicki Cobb said...

I think that every laundromat needs to post a copy of that article.

Barbara Kerley said...

I agree, Linda.

Vicki, you crack me up.