This post briefly reviews Hyunjoon Park, “Home Literacy Environments and Children’s Reading Performance: A Comparative Study of 25 Countries” in Educational Research and Evaluation 14, no. 6 (Winter 2008): 489-505
Park, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, here gives the results of an ambitious study of 25 countries aiming to determine the degree to which home literacy environments affect children’s reading abilities.
Park uses data on fourth graders collected by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which collects data in many countries on the number of books in homes, the amount of time parents spend reading to their kids, and parental attitudes toward reading.
Park is especially interested in determining whether the level of economic development in a country affects home literacy environments, hence his 25 country study. He compared the data from the PIRLS study to reading scores among children in the country being studied, controlling for parent educational background, number of children in the family, family structure (single parent vs. two parent), and minority status using a sophisticated regression analysis.
Park found “some relationship” between a nation’s level of economic development and home literacy environment: “in short, literacy environments tend to be more favorable in more developed countries.” (p.496). But what about within a given country? Can poorer families in a country improve their children’s reading scores if the home literacy environment is rich with books and reading?
Park finds, unfortunately, that poor children who have home literacy environments that are on par with those of rich children still score lower on reading tests, and this happens in pretty much every country. In general, moreover, the higher the parent’s educational level and the more developed the country, the richer the home literacy environment.
All said, this is one of those studies that goes to great lengths to document in a quantitative fashion something common sense would have told you anyway. Sometimes studies like this yield surprising results, but not in this case.