Reading is the only out-of-school activity linked to a better career, study finds

Reading books is the only out-of-school activity for 16-year-olds that is linked to their getting a better career, a new study has found.

 The British Sociological Association’s annual conference in London was told today [Friday 8 April 2011] that other activities, such as playing sports, a musical instrument or computer games, made no difference to their future careers.

 Mark Taylor, of the University of Oxford, analysed 17,200 questionnaire responses from people born in 1970 who gave details of their extra-curricular activities at the age of 16 and their careers at the age of 33.

 Mr Taylor, of Nuffield College, found that the 16-year-olds who read books at least once a month were significantly more likely to be in a managerial or professional job at 33 than those who did not read books at all.

 He found that there was a 39% probability that girls would be in professional or managerial posts at 33 if they had read books at 16, but only a 25% chance if they had not. For boys the figures rose from 48% to 58% if they read books.

 Mr Taylor found that none of the other activities, such as taking part in sports or activities, socialising often with friends, going to museums or galleries or to the cinema or concerts, or doing practical activities like cooking or sewing, affected their careers.  

He also found that playing computer games frequently did not make it less likely that 16-year-olds would be in a professional or managerial career at 33, though this was linked to a lower chance of going to university.

 Mr Taylor told the conference that: “According to our results there is something special about reading for pleasure – the positive associations of reading for pleasure aren’t replicated in any other extra-curricular activity, regardless of our expectations.” 

 He said that the reasons that reading was special could be that it improved the intellect of students, or that employers felt more comfortable taking on someone with a similarly educated background. It might also be simply that reading had no effect – it was just that students who were already destined for better careers tended to read more anyway.

 Reading books was also linked with a higher chance of students going to university. Mr Taylor found that for children whose parents worked in admin or sales the chance that they would go to university rose from 24% to 35% for boys if they read books, and from 20% to 30% for girls.

 If they read books and also did one other cultural activity, such as playing an instrument or going to museums, the chance rose from 24% to 54% for boys and from 20% to 48% for girls.

Playing computer games regularly and doing no other activities meant their chances of going to university fell from 24% to 19% for boys and from 20% to 14% for girls.

 For 16-year-olds whose parents were working in professional or managerial jobs, the chance that a 16-year-old would go to university rose from 40% to 51% for boys and 38% to 50% for girls if they read books. If they read books and did one other cultural activity, such as playing an instrument or going to museums, the chance rose from 40% to 70% for boys and from 38% to 68% for girls.

Mr Taylor, who examined responses from the British Cohort Study for his study, also found that though reading helped people into a more prestigious career, it did not bring them a higher salary. None of the extra-curricular activities at 16 were associated with a greater or lesser income at 33, he found.

For more information, please contact:

Tony Trueman

British Sociological Association

Tel: 07964 023392


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