The Importance of Reading as a Key Skill for Everyone
The Reading Agency work to inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. They do this because we know that people need support to read for pleasure and empowerment, and to develop their literacy skills.
The reading facts listed below set out the key evidence about literacy skills and reading for pleasure in the UK, showing how reading can empower you to realise your ambitions and fulfil your potential.
- Statistics from 2014 show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11
- Research conducted in 2012 found that 17% of 15 year-olds in England do not have a minimum level of proficiency in literacy.
- Analysis conducted in 2013 found that in England 16 to 24 year-olds have lower levels of literacy than young people in 21 out of 24 countries in the OECD. Literacy levels are higher in Japan, Estonia, Czech Republic and the USA.
- England is the only country where 16-24 year olds have lower literacy and numeracy skills than 55-65 year-olds, out of 24 OECD countries.
- 16% of adults (around 5.8 million people) in England and Northern Ireland score at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy (at or below Level 1).
Reading for pleasure
- England's children have less positive attitudes towards reading than in many other countries: only 26% of 10 year-olds 'like reading' compared to 46% in Portugal, 42% in Georgia, 35% in Romania, and 33% in Azerbaijan.
- Most children in England do not read on a daily basis: in 2011 just over a third (37%) of 10 year-olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure every day.
- In England, 36% of adults don't read for pleasure, rising to 44% of young people (aged 16 to 24).
- In 2013/14, 18% of adults in England had only bought a novel or a book of stories, poetry or plays once or twice in the last 12 months.
- 41% of 11-15 year-olds in England do not participate in reading and writing activities that are not required for school in their spare time.
- In 2014/15, 30% of 5-15 year-olds in England had not visited a library in the last year. However, there are a significant number of regular library users in this age group: 20% had visited a library in the last week.
Reading and disadvantage
- Five-year-olds who are eligible for free school meals score 19 percentage points lower in their literacy skills than their peers, and the attainment gap between students on free school meals and their peers for GCSE English is at the same level.
- The degree of inequality in reading levels for children aged around ten is higher in England than in almost all other developed countries.
- Nearly two in ten disadvantaged pupils did not achieve the expected standard in reading at Key Stage 2 in 2014, compared with nearly one in ten non-disadvantaged pupils.
- By the final year of compulsory schooling, the reading skills of English children from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average two and a half years behind those from the most affluent homes.
- Unemployed adults are twice as likely to have weak literacy skills as those in full-time employment.
Educational impacts of reading
- Reading for pleasure is more important for children's cognitive development than their parents' level of education and is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background.
- There is a difference in reading performance equivalent to just over a year's schooling between young people who never read for enjoyment and those who read for up to 30 minutes per day.
- Children who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gain higher results in maths, vocabulary and spelling tests at age 16 than those who read less regularly.
- DfE analysis suggests that if all pupils in England read for enjoyment every day or almost every day, the boost to Key Stage 2 performance would be the equivalent of a rise of eight percentage points in the proportion achieving a level 4b (from its current level of 67% to 75%).
- The frequency of reading for pleasure at age 42 is linked to vocabulary skills: those who read every day at 42 have an advantage of 4 percentage points in their vocabulary over those who do not read as frequently.
Economic impacts of reading
- Low levels of literacy cost the UK an estimated £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending, impacting on 'the success of the economy as a whole'.
- Per capita incomes are higher in countries where more adults reach the highest levels of literacy proficiency and fewer adults are at the lowest levels of literacy.
- 16 year-olds who choose to read books for pleasure outside of school are more likely to secure managerial or professional jobs in later life.
- In England and Northern Ireland, the median hourly wage of workers with the highest levels of literacy is 94% higher than for workers who have the lowest levels of literacy.
Health and wellbeing impacts of reading
- Adults with lower levels of literacy are more likely to experience poor health and to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and are less likely to participate in volunteer activities.
- Literacy has been found to have a relationship with depression: 36% of those with low literacy were found to have depressive symptoms, compared to 20% of those with the highest levels of literacy.
- Reading for pleasure has been linked to a reduction in the symptoms of depression and to a reduction in the risk of developing dementia in later life.
- People who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile. 76% of adults say that reading improves their life and the same number says it helps to make them feel good.
- Research has indicated that reading fiction is associated with higher levels of empathy and improved relationships with others.
1. [DfE (2015) Reading: the next steps p.13]
2. [DfE (2013) Achievement of 15-Year-Olds in England: PISA 2012 National Report, p.66]
3. [OECD (2013) Skills Outlook: First results from the survey of adult skills p.72]
4. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK) - Country Note -Survey of Adult Skills first results p.4]
5. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK) - Country Note -Survey of Adult Skills first results p.6]
6. [Mullis et al (2012) PIRLS 2011 International Results in Reading p.204]
7. [Twist et al (2012) PIRLS 2011: reading attainment in England p.73 ]
8. [DCMS (2015) Taking Part 2014/15, Focus On: Free time activities p.7]
9. [DCMS (2015) Taking Part 2013/14, Focus On: Free time activities p.6]
10. [DCMS (2015) Taking Part 2014/15 Annual Child Report p.18]
11. [DCMS (2015) Taking Part 2014/15 Annual Child Report p.7]
12. [DfE, Early years foundation stage profile attainment by pupil characteristics, England 2014 and DfE, GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics in England, 2012/13]
13. [Save the Children (2014) How reading can help children escape poverty p. 11-12]
14. [DfE (2015) Reading: the next steps p. 9]
15. [Jerrim (2012) The socio-economic gradient in teenagers' literacy skills p.11]
16. [OECD (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills p.26]
17. [Sullivan and Brown (2013) Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading]
18. [OECD (2002) Reading for Change: Performance and engagement across countries p.16-17]
19. [OECD (2010) PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn: Student Engagement, Strategies and Practices p.32-4]
20. [Sullivan and Brown (2013), Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading]
21. [DfE (2015) Reading: the next steps p. 18]
22. [Sullivan and Brown (2014) Vocabulary from adolescence to middle-age WP 2014(7) - Vocabulary from adolescence to middle age - A Sullivan, M Brown - November 2014.pdf p.5]
23. World Literacy Foundation (2012) The economic and social costs of illiteracy
24. [House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (2014) Adult Literacy and Numeracy Report p.3]
25. [OECD (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills p.27]
26. [Taylor (2011) Reading at 16 linked to better job prospects]
27. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK) - Country Note -Survey of Adult Skills first results note - United Kingdom.pdf p.2]
28. [OECD (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills p.27]
29. [Jenkins et al (2011) Literacy, Numeracy and Disadvantage Among Older Adults in England p.68]
30. [Dowrick et al (2012) Get into reading as an intervention for common mental health problems: exploring catalysts for change, in Medical Humanities, 38(1), 15-20]
31. [Hughes et al (2010) Engagement in Reading and Hobbies and Incident Dementia in the Community: The MoVIES Project. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 18(3), S100-S100]
32. [Gleed (2014) Booktrust Reading Habits Survey 2013 p.2]
33. [Mar, R. et al (2009) Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes et al 2009_reading fiction and empathy.pdf p. 421-3]