Study: Size of home library affects chances of going to university

Home libraries have always played an important tole in educational opportunities in Estonia.
Home libraries have always played an important tole in educational opportunities in Estonia. Source: Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Recent years have seen efforts to dial back educational inequality in Estonia and elsewhere in the world. Tallinn University scientists looked into why educational stratification is still a problem, suggesting that higher education access also depends on the size of home libraries.

"We wanted to identify factors that manufacture educational inequality. We concentrated on how parents' educational and cultural background affects their children's opportunities in higher education," Triin Lauri, one of the authors of the study, docent of public policy at Tallinn University, said.

The research team analyzed the transfer of inequality in six countries: Estonia, Czechia, Sweden, Germany and the U.K. The focus was on youths with three background markers that favor studying: mother with higher education, father with higher education and a sizable home library. People in this group were compared to those who only had one out of three factors.

It turned out that while the number of families where all three conditions are met is growing, the latter's effect on whether children continue studies is lessening. At the same time, the negative effect of not having favorable background conditions has also grown.

"If both parents lack higher education and the home has few books, there is almost 100 percent certainty that their child will not obtain a higher education in all countries," said Ellu Saar, study co-author and professor at the Tallinn University Institute of Social Sciences.

Estonia compared to other countries

The negative effect of lack of favorable conditions was felt in all countries, while it was especially prominent in Estonia and Czechia. This is in line with earlier studies. "Mother's higher education and the number of books at home have always played a role in educational differences among Estonian youths," Triin Lauri said, adding that it was nevertheless surprising how clearly parents' lower level of education and modest selection of books at home manifested.

Sweden stood out in that lack of parents' higher education and scarcity of books played less of a role in whether children continued studies or not. The negative effect of lack of background conditions has been falling from one year to the next in Sweden. This clearly differs from the education inequality models in other countries.

The situation in Germany was similar to Estonia in that favorable conditions rather have a modest effect on continued studies, while negative conditions are a major hindrance. This trend was reversed in the U.K. Compared to the other countries, unfavorable conditions were less of an obstacle.

Books shape environment growing up

The study relied on data from the PIAAC study of adult skills where participants were asked to estimate the number of books they had at home on a scale of 0-500. "Even though the method has been criticized, we can say it is a representative and widespread measure of cultural capital," Lauri said. Around 5,000 people took part in the study in Estonia.

The data does not say whether the children read the books. "Prior studies have also demonstrated that the presence of books is more important than whether they are read," Ellu Saar said. She added that Estonian homes tend to have more books than those in other countries.

The researchers said that an abundance of books points to a certain type of parent and a home environment that has a positive effect on studies and general development of children.

The study was published in the International Journal of Comparative Sociology.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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