Seeing your parents read makes you more likely to read...right?

Or does it? I can find plenty of articles asserting that your kids should see you reading if you want them to be more likely to read, but despite relentless Googling I can’t find a study that actually isolates that effect from others, for example the effect of reading books aloud to your kid.

I know plenty of people (including me) who read “oppositely” from their parents, but anecdotes aren’t worth much.

I’ve always thought that if you see your parents reading for pleasure, you are more likely to do so. In my case, my parents both read, and we always had library cards as well as gifts of books. Reading was encouraged in my family. It wasn’t a grudging thing to be taken to the library. Sometimes avid kid readers get into the grown-up books, too. There are some Harold Robbins’ novels (and others) with a few vivid scenes I remember to this day, even though I didn’t “get” quite what it was all about!

I was a nanny for a summer to a family who wanted their kids to be readers. However, the parents had about three books in the house for themselves. Two were cookbooks, and one was a seemingly abandoned copy of Dianetics. I think I was the only one who picked up the Elron book, and no matter how starved for reading material I was when the kids were napping, I couldn’t get through that crap. I brought my own books.

My parents both had full-time jobs and were too busy for much pleasure reading. The value they placed on both education and reading was obvious, though and they taught me to read early on and made sure I had plenty of reading matter.

Wish I still had my collection of Little Golden Books.

I think the idea isn’t simply that your kids see you reading - you should read to them from a very early age (well before 1 year) so they get the idea that there’s interesting stuff in books.

Based just on my family and friends, it is necessary for the child to have reading material available and to see reading as something interesting and non-threatening.

I had classmates whose house contained only one book other than those we needed for school, and it was the phone book. Most of those went on to be the kind of person who reads only the headlines.

I learned to read before anybody had tried to teach me or thought of reading to me, although I had seen Dad reading, asked “what are you doing” and being told “what does it say there” enough times to count as “having inadvertently being taught to read.” But the interest came from seeing my parents do it and from being one of the few things in which I could bond with Dad.

Middlebro had problems learning to read, but they were much worse reading printed than handwritten materials. Mild dyslexia, yay (he confuses the bdpq group, which is indeed more confusing in print than handwritten). He is a voracious reader, though.

Littlebro could read just fine, but he refused to read anything he didn’t need for class until age 15. He didn’t even read the blurbs in comic books; he knew he was missing half the jokes but it didn’t matter, because he’d decided he hated reading and he wasn’t going to read and that was that. We reckon it comes from seeing reading as a rival when he was a little kid, as often he’d come up to us saying “I’m bored, entertain me” and we’d reply “I’m reading, entertain yourself.” Getting hooked on MERP and having the rest of the group answer his questions of “what’s a Nazgul?” with “you have the effing book, read it” finally did it.

Someone whose house doesn’t contain any books and who doesn’t get introduced to the concept of “reading for pleasure” until pretty late, will not start reading for pleasure until pretty late, if ever. But, same as being good parents isn’t a guarantee that your kids will turn all right, parents who are voracious readers and whose house looks like the local branch of the Library of Congress are not guaranteed to have children who read.

According to Abigail Thernstrom, author of several books on education, the mere presence of books in the home helps dramatically.

My mother was a great reader, our shelves were lined with books (and I certainly got an education from the Harold Robbins’ books she tried to hide :eek:). Every week she brought home for me, from the grocery store, an edition of The Golden Book Encyclopedia (remember them?) which I practically memorized. Later, they bought me a set of real encyclopedias, ditto. My aunt, a librarian, and godfather always gave me beautiful classic hardcover books for Christmas.

Maybe it was just me. The librarian aunt’s daughter, even on a boring rainy vacation day, wouldn’t even think of picking up any kind of book. She was the type who couldn’t sit quietly, always had to be talking and “doing something”.

I think you’re right, it’s the “whole package”. Not just reading, but reading aloud and having books worth reading in the house and of course, the family pressure to read and get a good eductaion.

My parents made a living from smarts as college professors; a library card and weekly trips to the library were standard in the family. It was assumed that reading was one of the activities you were going to do and of course, that getting a higher education and an “educated” job was what you would do with your life. If you read the memoirs of smart, educated people whose parents were not highly educated (Asimov comes to mind) those parents still put a premium on reading and getting a good education - which motivated their kids.

I think it would be hard to find a set of households that separated the roles enough to test the different hypothises- only read aloud, or only had books around, or only told the kids to read. Even fewer parents are likely to admit this was the case.

OTOH, I got stuck at a place once as a kid for a few days where the only thing to read was the Sears Catalog, and I did read it cover to cover. Part of my motivation was that we did not have a TV for quite a while when I was growing up, and B&W when I did have one, so I did not waste mind-numbing hours watching instead of reading. (Now, with the internet, I combine both.) I think I was about 25 before I realized that there were different colour Star Trek shirt colours which meant something.

I do know families who have nothing but the one Golden Book and 2 trashy novels in the house - and the kids did not do well in life.

Oh, and Harold Robbins was very interesting too.

I Googled around and couldn’t find anything, but I found a lot of evidence, that parents that read to their kids, and/or parents that have their children read to them, have children that have more education. This doesn’t mean they’re smarter, but rather they choose to read more and persue more educational opportunities

In “Freakonomics” IIRC Levitt shows that the single biggest indicator of how well a person will do in life is the education of their parents. That doesn’t mean that you cannot do well if your parents didn’t, but it’s likely most of your schoolmates will not be than same.

I assume that education and reading ability are somewhat related.

And IIRC, from the same book, the biggest correlation with reading ability was not whether or not your parents read to you, but how many books they had.

Thanks for all the good responses. Just to be clear, as implied by my post I do understand that reading to your kids (and having them read to you) is important. I’m more interested in the residual value of seeing your parents reading, mainly because the topic came up at a recent party…some parents-of-multiple-kids (and adults with multiple siblings) were noting the varied reading habits within their own families.

That left me wondering if taking pleasure in reading is an independent discovery, as opposed to the simple mechanics of learning to read

That may be too abstract for a study. <shrug>

Well, kids will tend to take a liking to whatever their parents do a lot of, and include the kids in, but its not absolute. Anecdote:

I have 2 brothers. We were raised in a house with a LOT of guns, and a LOT of books.

I love reading. Not a big fan of hunting.
Brother 1 loves hunting, not a big fan of reading(except for hunting magazines)
Brother 2 loves hunting AND reading.

Another “worthless” :wink: anecdote.

My parents never read. As in, had no books of their own in the house.

As a kid, they did read to me before bedtime. Later when I showed an interest they provided me plenty of books for me to read on my own. But they never read at all when I was a kid.

As a kid, and now as an adult, I read hellaciously - I devour books, then I re-read, then I get more. It’s a rare week that I don’t purchase at least one new book. My Kindle only accelerated this.

My mom finally did start to read now that she’s retired. Still nothing like me, though. She buys a lot of books but gets through only 10% of them. Fortunately she seems to like history/non-fiction so I make sure to give them some proper love when I’m home for the holidays.

My dad, though a very smart guy, still doesn’t read. A real pity. Doesn’t know what he’s missing :D.

Again, how do you separate secondary effects from causes? A family with a lot of books finds it worthwhile to spend money on books, which probably indicates an enjoyment of reading. It’s just a cheap and definite numerical way to measure “how important is reading to you?”

Unless you can find a decent sized population willing to claim “We had lots of books but never cracked them open” or “we had lots of books but never read to our kids” I guess the problem will always be how to quantify the relative value of each activity - reading to kids, having books, reading yourself where kids see you, etc.

As the example with the guns and books shows, it’s still statistical, not a 100% guarantee that everyone picks up what the parent(s) like.

Just one anecdote, FWIW.

I have a photo of my three children and wife sitting on our sofa, all with books in their hands and three of them reading. The fourth, 18 months old, was holding the book upside down! By HS two of them finished #1 in their class and the third finished #2.

Forty years ago I read a statistic that half the adult population in the US had never read a book in their lives, outside schoolwork. I can’t imagine the situation has improved any since then.

Both my parents were voracious readers and it rubbed off on me. My brother, not so much but my SIL (Both her parents were English college profs) and her sister outpace me. The three of us make an annual pilgrammage to the VNSA booksale and haul away about fifty pounds each.

It also indicates a certain amount of discretionary income.

I think this is important. Kids tend to pick up and “play” with whatever is lying around when they get bored. Having lots of reading materials lying around can have a subversive positive effect, even if they are just copies of magazines and newspapers. Not everything has to be a planned activity for kids, and there is a certain amount of satisfaction in discovering a neat book that was just lying around.

Having just read the book…


Basically, who the parent is (like likes to read) had a huge impact. What the parent did (like reading to your kid)…had little impact.