Books Matter

A recent article in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility finds that having a lot of books in your house increases the amount of education your children will attain. The cross-national research was conducted by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Donald J. Treiman.  Here is a Chronicle of Higher Education post on this piece and the abstract is as follows:

Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. This is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father. It holds equally in rich nations and in poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism, capitalism, and Apartheid; and most strongly in China. Data are from representative national samples in 27 nations, with over 70,000 cases, analyzed using multi-level linear and probit models with multiple imputation of missing data.

This isn’t all that surprising to me – though it is nice to see an effect even controlling for parental socio-economic status (SES).  I couldn’t get past the gate to the article so assuming that this is all up to snuff methodologically. 

Now assuming that more formal education is a good thing, this is basically, in my case, like telling a blow addict who cares about his kids that the presence of coke in the house will benefit his offspring: it will only serve to further an unhealthy addiction (in my case, one that has negative fiscal ramifications and health effects — breaking my back and threatening hernias every time I move).  Just kidding. 

This is great news that will assuage my conscience while surfing Amazon and help me effectively counter my wife every time she asks if we have enough books already.  The downside is my kids might get a Ph.D. 

But I still wonder what the causal path is as there might be a correlation without causation and I’d like some theory to explain how the IV causes the DV.

7 thoughts on “Books Matter

  1. I strongly suspect that having books is an indicator of being an intellectually inclined household, not that the mere presence of books somehow causes children to think education is important. It’s a proxy for something else that is probably more difficult to measure.

  2. Grover,
    I have no theory but as your father I understand this sentence:
    “it will only serve to further an unhealthy addiction (in my case, one that has negative fiscal ramifications and health effects — breaking my back and threatening hernias every time I move). Just kidding.”

    I have many of your books in my basement that are expensive to move, have an unhealthy smell coming from the old musty boxes, and are very heavy to move around.

    I may take them to my Presbyterian church to sell at a yard sale!

    Your dad Richard

  3. Freakonomics has a section about this correlation. Turns out that reading to your kids wasn’t as significant as just having books in the home. They put forth two theories: (1) parents that have books are already smart and the kids have a genetic/behavioral inheritance (2) parents with lots of books value education more and focus on educating their children.

    I would love to see how the coefficient of number of movies or number of video games in the home compares to the coefficient of number of books. I predict a counteracting relationship.

    1. I too would like to see what effect movies or video games have. Or if we could find enough t.v.-less homes, to compare those with and without tv (though, of course, tv-less homes are going to have a lot of things about them that could also account for outcomes).

      1. If you control for income you’d probably see a strong correlation between the number of tvs and income level, but you would still see some interesting things. For instance, the low income households I have visited are still more likely to have a tv/video game system than they are to have books on the shelf. Both the book count and media count would probably be signals of the values in the family.

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