Early Parental Reading and Reading for Enjoyment: What Matters Most for Boys and Girls?

Submitted by: Luis Araujo
Abstract: This study examines the combined effect of frequency of parental book reading to 4-5 year olds and of students reading for enjoyment outside school on Australian students’ literacy scores at ages 8-9. Sénéchal (2012) has shown that family literacy practices related to teaching preschool children about literacy, namely the alphabet, and reading with them increase reading comprehension in fourth grade. Araújo and Costa (2015) report similar results in different European countries, using data from the cross-sectional Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). It is well established that reading to young children positively influences later reading achievement (Kalb & van Ours, 2014) and it might also increase children’s motivation to read, which in turn will result in more frequent reading for enjoyment (Neuman & Dickinson, 2011, p.901). However, no longitudinal research exists to tests whether there is an additional advantage of students’ reading for enjoyment in the reading achievement of children who have been exposed to early book reading (Sénéchal & Young, 2008). To investigate this, we use data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) in a hierarchical model where parental reading has a direct effect on the child current reading ability and a model where parental reading has an indirect effect through an association with reading for enjoyment. Results indicate that while for boys early parental reading has an indirect effect on reading scores test via its impact on reading for enjoyment, for girls the two effects are independent and therefore cumulative. This highlights the importance of parental reading to young boys as a form of early transmission of human capital. Findings also suggest that parental book reading reflects educational practices and cultural values, as the families that engage in book reading are more likely to limit the amount of TV children watch on weekdays. Lastly, reading for enjoyment seems to be, in and of itself, a capital investment in learning that results in better reading scores. This highlights the need for parents and schools to motivate students to read, namely by exposing them to environments that stimulate reading habits.


Reading to Young Children, Reading for Enjoyment, Gender Differences, Human Capital
Araújo, L., & Costa, P. (2015). Home book reading and reading achievement in EU countries: the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2011 (PIRLS). Educational Research.
Kalb, G., & Ours, J. C. (2014). Reading to young children: A head-start in life? Economics of Education Review, 40, 1-24.
Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2017). PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center website: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2016/international-results/
Neuman, S. B. & Dickinson, D. K. (Eds.) (2011), Handbook of early literacy research. New York: Guilford Press.