Reading, Reading and Reading....

This is the message one might take from a working paper recently released by the Center of Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. The study entitled "Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading" analyzes cognitive test scores at age 16 for a nationally representative cohort of people born in Britain in 1970 (the 1970 British Cohort Study). Using a multivariate general linear model that also takes into account test scores at ages 5 and 10, an in-depth examination of the progress in a child's cognitive skills can be made from near the end of primary school into secondary school. These years are probably distinct from the early childhood years during which parental as well as socio-economic factors strongly influence learning outcomes. In fact, with this model, only the parent's educational attainment remains significant while economic indicators become irrelevant. The likelihood that a child further improves from age 10 to 16 now relies a lot more on what the child does. And it is reading, reading and reading, as shown in the following figure from the paper:

Above figure copied from
Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading

The authors summarize their conclusion with the following paragraphs:
In model 4, economic resources are no longer significant, with the exception of housing tenure in the case of maths. Parents’ education is still highly significant, though much reduced, with the coefficients for a degree cut roughly in half. The ongoing influence of parents’ education is strongest and most consistent in the case of vocabulary. The child’s own reading remains powerfully significant in this model.

To put the effect sizes in context, the coefficients for a parental degree and for the key childhood reading variables are converted into percentage point equivalents in figure 1. Taking the three key variables reflecting childhood reading together, they add up to a gain of 14.54 percentage points in vocabulary, 10.0 percentage points in maths and 8.6 percentage points in spelling. This compares to a difference associated with a parental degree of 4.4 percentage points for vocabulary, 3.2 percentage points for maths and 1.7 percentage points for spelling. In other words, the influence of reading on cognitive growth is substantial.
Seeing that economic resources lose significance in a child's progress from age 10 to 16 suggests that poverty has stronger influence in early childhood education and primary school years. Age 10 test scores are highly predictive of scores at age 16. Interventions designed to lessen the impact of poverty on education during the early years are therefore very promising.