May 9, 2011 Reading books is the only out-of-school activity for 16-year-olds that is linked to getting a managerial or professional job in later life, says an Oxford study.
Researcher Mark Taylor, from the Department of Sociology, analysed 17,200 questionnaire responses from people born in 1970, which gave details of extra-curricular activities at the age of 16 and their careers at the age of 33. The findings, presented at the British Sociological Association on May 4, show that girls who had read books at 16 had a 39 per cent probability of a professional or managerial post at 33, but only a 25 per cent chance if they had not. For boys who read regularly, the figure went up from 48 per cent to 58 per cent.
None of the other activities, such as taking part in sports or activities, socialising, going to museums or galleries or to the cinema or concerts, or practical activities like cooking or sewing, were found to have a significant effect on their careers. Mr Taylor 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, but this was linked to a lower chance of going to university.
Mr Taylor said: '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 suggests that reading might be a factor because it helps to sharpen the mind or employers feel more comfortable appointing someone with a similarly educated background. It might be simply that students who were already destined for better careers tend to read more anyway.
Reading books was found to be linked with a higher chance of students going to university. For 16-year-old children whose parents worked in admin or sales, their chance of going to university went up from 24 per cent to 35 per cent for boys and from 20 per cent to 30 per cent 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 per cent to 54 per cent for boys and from 20 per cent to 48 per cent for girls. Playing computer games regularly and doing no other activities reduced their chances from 24 per cent to 19 per cent for boys and from 20 per cent to 14 per cent for girls.
The research, based on responses from the British Cohort Study, finds that although reading is linked to a more prestigious career, this does not necessarily mean they will enjoy a higher salary. It shows that none of the extra-curricular activities at 16 were associated with a greater or lesser income at 33.
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