Study: Scholarly culture: How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 31 societies

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Scholarly culture theory highlights book-oriented socialization, indicated by adolescents’ home library size, as a source of cognitive competencies, skills and knowledge that are valued not only in formal education but also by employers in different places and historical periods. Scholarly culture does not comprise arbitrary cultural signals that identify elite members and earmark them for privileged positions in society: it enhances performance and as such it is valued in various historical circumstances and by modest families as well as the elite.

Growing up, I was surrounded by books. My mother had well over a thousand. As did I by the time I graduated high school. We also spent time at the public, K-12 school, and university libraries. Naturally, my first job was in a library. And, it is only a quirk of luck that I am not a librarian instead of a technologist. Well, an automation librarian. Fleur already has over a couple hundred books.

The study specifically has adults reach back into their memory and recall how many books they had. I worry about this kind of self-reporting because people use books as status symbol might inflate the number.

But, books in the home (as recalled from memory) as an adolescent, the level of literacy, numeracy, and technology skills grew up until about 350. Beyond that, there were not great gains. This seems like another of those Goldilocks things were there is great effect but only to a point. The gains are best from a handful to 80 but still good up until about 350.

In the cohort, people who were between 25 and 65 years of age between 2011 and 2015, grew up with hardly any books, and managed to finish only lower secondary school (9 years) typically performed in the literacy test at about −0.55 of a standard deviation below the mean. Their counterparts with university degrees had roughly average literacy levels (0.00). The same level of literacy was achieved by people who were surrounded by many books in adolescence but whose schooling ended in Year 9 (0.02). So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes up for a good deal of educational advantage.

The effects are seen across culturally diverse countries.

I wonder though, if a robust library system affects how many books a household might have? I feel like we were an aberration for both having thousands of books and spending lots of time in libraries. Perhaps countries or even cities with easy access to books in libraries mean families invest less in personal collections but yet still adhere to scholarly culture?

But, my confirmation bias is excited about this study as it means my intention to surround Fleur with books, read with her, and foster a love of books & research is on the right track.

Got to this study by reading the Smithsonian’s Growing Up Surrounded by Books Could Have Powerful, Lasting Effect on the Mind.

Joanna SikoraM. D. R. EvansJonathan Kelley. (2019). Scholarly culture: How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 31 societies. Social Science Research, Volume 77, January 2019, Pages 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2018.10.003

Reviews

2142254192_918aaba0da_mI’ve been posting about studies but increasingly becoming uncomfortable about how I went about it. See, in calling this blog Polymath Parent, I am signalling my appreciation for science. And, while I am posting about scientific ideas around neuroscience and child development, I am often pulling from popular science sources that are not particularly rigorous or nuanced.

I did that with Defiance of parental authority leads to success? but not with The parenting happiness gap.

My intention is to do more looking at the actual studies and posting on what I read in them which is more nuanced than what other blogs are posting. I will post this as “Study Saturday” posts. Look for the first this weekend.

Also, to make it clearer which are my just posting about a blog/news post vs the actual study, the title will be pre-pended with “Study:” and end with the citation to the study I read. Book reviews will be pre-pended with “Book:”. And they will go in a Study category.

Shocked, I tell you, shocked!

Whenever there is an interesting noise, Fleur looks to someone else and does the shocked expression. Raised eyebrows and narrows the lips. Then she turns that into a smile into a smile when I make the “Whaaaaa?” sound.

She does this to loud trucks, someone opening the door, noises from another room, and (of course, my personal favorite) farts.

The world should probably be terrified that she acquires my sense of humor. Early signs tells me we are going to have a lot of fun.

Baby cadence

The baby babble took an interesting turn with these monologues that remind me of… well, there is no good way to say it… but, I really don’t want to… so, here goes… Hitler.

She has the cadence down. The cadence sounds German and very, very passionate about whatever it is that is the subject of her monologue.

English is at its core a Germanic language. It is named for the Angles who were a Germanic tribe who migrated to the island that is now the home of England. Another major influence comes from the Saxons who were another Germanic tribe. Frisian provided yet another Germanic influence. William the Conqueror brought a French influence so the royal court spoke it while the commoners spoke English, but eventually, the two merged into modern English.

Guess this makes me wonder if most English speaking kids go through an oratory phase like this? Or is this cadence thing more universal such that all kids speak something similar?

The parenting happiness gap

As social scientists we rarely completely explain anything, but in this case we completely explain the parental happiness gap,” said Dr. Glass. In countries with the strongest family-friendly policy packages, “the parental deficit in happiness was completely eliminated, accomplished by raising parent’s happiness rather than lowering nonparents’ happiness,” the authors wrote.

It’s not just one policy, like paid parental leave, that makes the difference. It’s the magic of a package of policies spanning over a lifetime, that allow people to care for children, support them financially, and even enjoy them every once in awhile on a holiday.

Who would have thought work-life balance policies could help make people not as miserable?

I am fortunate to have an employer that makes this stuff possible. Guess I should use it for more recruiting.

Civilization Is Built on Code

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How did we humans manage to build a global civilization on the cusp of colonizing other planets?

Maybe it’s our unique capacity for complex language and story-telling, which allow us to learn in groups; or our ability to extend our capabilities through technology; or political and religious institutions we have created. However, perhaps the most significant answer is something else entirely: code. Humanity has survived, and thrived, by developing productive activities that evolve into regular routines and standardized platforms—which is to say we have survived, and thrived, by creating and advancing code.

As a technologist, this article was written to attract my attention. In a nutshell, code, aka the instructions for describing a process is in everything humanity creates. From RNA in the cell interpreting DNA to make the proteins that are the building blocks of life to the 0s and 1s in binary data telling computers how to draw the text in this blog, code is everywhere. Our technology going back to making stone tools and fire is built on creating and refining processes.

The concept of the unit of knowledge passed along through culture is the meme. The idea was based on the concept of the gene passing along hereditary behavior. The meme has been co-opted to mean a funny picture spread over the Internet.

Defiance of parental authority leads to success?

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Fleur pauses if you say, “Careful!” She complies with commands to help, but… only if she wants to do so. If she does not, then she just continues on with what she wants and ignores my presence. When it gets to her, the babbling back, though, is too utterly cute because it feels like I know what she is saying even though she cannot yet say it. We call this her being “strong-willed.”

A while ago, I noticed articles claiming that strong-willed children are more successful according to science. Intending to bookmark one to remind myself that I want this in my child any time I feel frustrated about this behavior, I found they linked to the actual study which is not behind a paywall.

Spengler, Marion & Brunner, Martin & Damian, Rodica & Lüdtke, Oliver & Martin, Romain & Roberts, Brent. (2015). Student Characteristics and Behaviors at Age 12 Predict Occupational Success 40 Years Later Over and Above Childhood IQ and Parental Socioeconomic Status. Developmental psychology. 51. 10.1037/dev0000025.

Note that this study is using income for occupational success, is longitudinal, and is somewhat self-reported. I do wonder if being willing to admit to “rule breaking and defiance of parental authority” in a study makes a difference to who gets rated strong in that measure. Like, they are so defiant that they are essentially bragging to authorities about doing so. Also, the people talking about their strong-willed kids have toddlers. The study they cite looks at pre-teenagers. Lots of behaviors at ages 2 or 5 or even 8 don’t persist to age 12.

That said, I was pretty defiant of adult authority in school. It did persist from elementary through high school. I guess I can only hope that Fleur keeps it up? That won’t stop me from having her do what I want her to do. I just perhaps might be a bit proud of her doing it.

Also, the article basically seems to be saying that after controlling for IQ, parental socio-economic status, and educational attainment, this rule breaking and defiance of parental authority seemed to be the best predictor of higher income. But, they admit that they don’t really have a good, non-ad hoc explanation so the causality needs to be explored. (Basically, don’t train your kid to have these behaviors until psychology understands why.)