Reading, Life Paths and Balance

Two UK posts caught my eye over the weekend.
The Telegraph discussed the impact of reading on career path.
Jemima Kiss discussed digital habits in The Observer.
The Telegraph post looked at data from the 1970 British Cohort study reported by Mark Taylor at the BSA’s 60th Conference.These data suggest that:

Of all the free-time activities teenagers do, such as playing computer games, cooking, playing sports, going to the cinema or theatre, visiting a museum, hanging out with their girlfriend or boyfriend, reading is the only activity that appears to help them secure a good job.

 At the age of 16, in 1986, they were asked which activities they did in their spare time for pleasure. These answers were then checked against the jobs they were doing at the age of 33, in 2003.

… there was a 39 per cent probability that girls would be in professional or managerial posts at 33 if they had read books at 16, but only a 25 per cent chance if they had not. For boys the figures rose from 48 per cent to 58 per cent if they read books.

This is the abstract of the paper presented at the Conference:

Digital Habits

My wife Sue shared Jemima Kiss’s post with me. Sue has a remarkable list of RSS feeds that she scans every morning and points me to articles I would not find alone.
Jemima wrote about How I kicked my digital habit. Her introduction is:

We were brushing through wet grass in the early morning when we saw it – a flash of white drifting behind a small patch of trees, backlit by the sun. Crouching down next to my small son, we watched the unmistakable shape of a barn owl until he disappeared into the wood. The look on my son’s face was part of a brief moment of magic, the kind of memory that we live for.
Ordinarily, my next thought would have been to pull out my phone and take a photo, send a tweet or record a video. Connecting is something I do unconsciously now. Tweeting is like breathing and photos and video have documented nearly every day of my 21-month-old son’s life. The meaningful merged with the mundane, all dutifully and habitually recorded – my enjoyment split between that technological impulse and the more delicate human need to be in the moment. This is how we live.
That weekend, however, our whole family – my partner, my son and I – were offline.

Jemima follows up on some ideas shared by William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry and discusses how we might exert “a little discipline to restore control over our unsettling, hyper-connected lives.” (For six other books on the Future of the Internet see this post by Maria Popova.)
The juxtaposition of the data from the 1970 Cohort Study and Jemima’s 2011 journey raise fundamental questions about long term development. My own reading spurt occurred from the age of 17 to 22 in a delightful pre-Internet age. I read voraciously now too but do most of that reading online.
Although I have a very large number of social media accounts I am using them less and less. I am a peripheral participant in many of the online exchanges. I am not sure if it is a country life that prompts this peripheral activity. I am certain that it is my wife’s support for a balanced life that is the tipping factor.
A note about the 1970 British Cohort Study
From the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ website:
BCS70 began when data were collected about the births and families of just under 17,200 babies born in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a particular week in April, 1970.  At this time, the study was named the British Births Survey (BBS), and it was sponsored by the National Birthday Trust Fund in association with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.  (Subjects from Northern Ireland, who had been included in the birth survey, were dropped from the study in all subsequent sweeps).
Since 1970 there have been six attempts to gather information from the whole cohort, as the chart below shows. With each successive attempt, the scope of enquiry has broadened from a strictly medical focus at birth, to encompass physical and educational development at the age of five, physical, educational and social development at the ages of ten and sixteen, and then to include economic development and other wider factors at 26, 29 and 34 years.
Photo Credits
Sam reading in Badlands


  1. Great post, Keith!
    Those who do not read are impoverished and the data you quote is hardly anything we do not instinctively know. I passionately believe that reading is the key for young people (and the rest of us) that unlocks potential. At my school we are trying to emphasise that self-directed reading (learning) is incredibly important. The challenge, of course, is the plethora of entertainment choices we all have, especially children, compared to just a few short years ago. The issue, IMHO, is the modelling done by parents. Kids will not read if their parents do not walk-the-walk.

    • Good morning, Darcy.
      Thank you for finding this post. I agree with you entirely.
      I am thinking of inviting students on all my courses to read a novel as an entry requirement. I am appreciating reading more and more.
      It is surprising that boys still find it difficult to devote (sic) time to reading and like you I think significant others are the key.
      I trust you are having a delightful holiday.
      Best wishes


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