Study: growing up with books in the home helps adult outcomes…but what about e-books?

Study: growing up with books in the home helps adult outcomes…but what about e-books?


recent study

is getting quite a bit of coverage.

I haven’t actually read it (I don’t have access without buying it), but the summaries suggest that having more books in the home when you are an adolescent helps with various adult outcomes.

Many people have thought that for years, but this one provides actual data (even controlling for some other factors, at least in Australia).

Up until the last month or so, we had something like 10,000 paperbooks in our home…and certainly, our now adult kid has had good outcomes.:)

However, in recent years, we’ve had access to many, many times that amount…of e-books. As happy members of

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

we have access to over one million titles (according to Amazon…they don’t show you numbers the way they used to show them).

Anyone with a contemporary computer/tablet/phone with internet could have access to those, if they pay an annual fee. Even without paying any fee there are tens of thousands of free e-books legally available online.

Does that mean everybody on the “haves” side of the digital divide now gets the advantage of having lots of books?

As an advocate of e-books (but someone who is also a trainer), I unfortunately have to guess no.

It’s important to note that the study didn’t suggest that actually reading the books was necessary…just seeing them in the home was enough.

You don’t actually accidentally see e-books…well, I guess you can see them on the “carousel” on a Fire tablet, but it won’t look like thousands.

Why should just having books in the home be enough? Is it osmosis? 😉

My guess is that it’s like why vegetarians kids in the USA are generally healthier (as I recall). It’s not necessarily that being a vegetarian is healthier: it could be because people who are vegetarians in the USA are probably more mindful of what they eat than the average person. They are less likely to let their children eat unsupervised, and more likely to instill “food values” in their children when they are away from home.

Having many visible books in the home, displayed on shelves, probably suggests to the child that the parents (or other guardians) consider reading important…and are willing to expend resources towards them.

Free e-books just don’t convey that same message.

We won’t be able to get data on e-books being available affecting adult outcomes for some time. It’s been about ten years since the explosion in e-book reading brought about by the introduction of the Kindle, but initially, it was a small, relatively affluent audience that had Kindles.

Would XR reading (probably augmented reality) of books help…”seeing” books in your hands that aren’t actually there? Probably not…although a virtual representation of the actual owned books might. Again, unfortunately, I’m guessing that seeing millions of free books wouldn’t help…that it’s the priority on books that the family places that matters.

I’m just speculating on that, though.

What do you think? If almost no one has physical books, will that reduce adult outcomes? Will XR matter on this? If the guardians can’t afford to own books, but expend a lot of resources in getting the child to a library, does that also help? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

5 Responses to “Study: growing up with books in the home helps adult outcomes…but what about e-books?”

  1. Scott Calvin Says:

    I’ve seen some advertisements for, e.g., customizable wallpaper (as in the physical stuff you put on walls, not the computer kind) that shows the spines and titles of public domain books and then has a QR codes so anyone with a device can download them. Clearly, that’s intended to send the kind of message you’re talking about, although it seems to be aimed more at guests than kids. Still, I wonder how that kind of thing would change the equation?

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    When I was growing up, there were lots of books in my house, and I saw my parents reading them. I had two bookshelves full of my own books. My first “big kid” bed had a bookcase headboard. There was a bookcase in the hall and another one in the living room. We had two sets of encyclopedias, a complete set of The Book of Knowledge, and an unabridged dictionary. Both of my parents belonged to book clubs. In addition, they also subscribed to several magazines each. I had my own subscriptions to three different children’s magazines. We also got two different newspapers a day. In other words, I was surrounded by reading materials.

    I grew up to become an English teacher. I earned a master’s degree as a reading specialist. I spent my 30 year teaching career working first with high school students who had reading disabilities, then eventually working with kids in grades K-6 with reading disabilities. Quite a few of the elementary kids were children of the students I’d had as high schoolers. Most of them came from homes devoid of reading material. Were they poor readers due to lack of reading materials in the home, or was the lack of reading materials due to the fact that the parents were reading disabled. Nature or nurture or a combination of both.

    I wonder if the study took other reading materials into account. In today’s world, it’s not just books that have gone digital. So have magazines and newspapers. On the other hand, texting seems to be taking the place of conversation. Is that a form of reading?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Can I grow up in your house? 😉

      I always remember when we asked our (then an actual kid) what they wanted when they grew up…and the response was to have more books than me. 🙂 Our kid still like owning books, but the nature of “ownership” has changed…access can, in a sense, feel like ownership.

      I haven’t been able to read the study, but I think they only took books into account. I remember reading an interesting study that said that kids who texted a lot, using text abbreviations, tended to be better spellers. You need to understand language to get how B4 is the same as “before”.

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I would have to say that anecdotally for my extended family that I don’t think the presence (or mostly absence) of pbooks has materially affected member outcomes. All five of my siblings (and their children) have done well. Other than me, I don’t think that there are many books lying around.
    Growing up there weren’t a lot of books (there was a copy of the Harvard Classics, complete sets of Dickens and O’Henry as decoration (no one ever read any of them — they were inherited from my father’s parents (who barely finished 8th grade).
    I would have to say that outcomes in my extended family resulted more from socio-economic factors rather than the presence or absence of pBooks. That said, my mother and I (but not my father or siblings) were voracious readers, but we relied on libraries — so never many books about.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Yes, my guess is that taking the trips to the library is another way to express the priority to the family and instill that value in the children.

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