Why It Pays to Read

By Rebecca Gross
Row of books
Books, by flickr user az
With every New Year comes a batch of resolutions on how we can improve ourselves. Less junk food, more exercise. Less complaining, more volunteering. And for many of us, less television, and more reading. We can’t help you with the kale-eating or the gym-going, but here are five reasons why it’s worth your while to stick to your resolve and get reading. It’s good for your job prospects Our 2007 report To Read or Not to Read found a link between higher rates of voluntary reading and more advanced reading skills. Why is that important? Well, higher reading skills generally correspond with better professional prospects. According to the report, “More than 60 percent of employed Proficient readers have jobs in management, or in the business, financial, professional, and related sectors; only 18 percent of basic readers are employed in those fields.” The study also found that proficient readers are 2.5 times more likely than those with basic reading skills to earn $850 or more a week. Seems like reason enough to crack the books and brush up on our reading skills. It makes us more empathetic people A 2013 study published in Science found that reading literary fiction elevated levels of empathy, a key factor in our development as compassionate human beings. As we read about the behaviors and thoughts of characters, we come to understand and appreciate their experiences and inner lives, even if they are markedly different from our own. Getting to know these characters bears none of the practical or moral constraints that it might in real life, giving us a safe place to explore the full range of what we’re capable of feeling and understanding. When translated into the ways we perceive our peers, this level of empathy improves our ability to form meaningful relationships. Need more proof? Check out our collection of essays on literary translation, The Art of Empathy. It protects our brains from dementia In a way, reading is a like a neurological fountain of youth. Research has shown that lifelong engagement in intellectually stimulating activities, such as reading, can slow declines in memory loss and thinking ability as we age. However, there are benefits even if mental stimulation occurs only later in life. A 2013 study from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that when people in their 70s and 80s took part in activities such as reading or puzzling, cognitive decline was reduced by 32 percent. Reciting poetry can also be an effective weapon against Alzheimer’s disease, helping those suffering from memory less become more vocal and socially engaged. It reduces stress The bad news: most of us can’t afford a beach vacation every time we feel stressed or overwhelmed. The good news: reading a book carries many of the same benefits (minus the tan) for a fraction of the cost—or none of the cost, if you use the library. In a 2009 study from the consultancy Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, testing found that reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent, making it a more effective means of relaxation than taking a walk, drinking a cup of tea, or playing video games. It generally makes us smarter In news that should surprise absolutely no one, reading can make you smarter. It can enhance your vocabulary, build your cognitive skills, introduce you to new ideas, and teach you all sorts of fun facts. The National Center for Education Statistics, cited in our To Read or Not to Read report, also found that students with more books in their households tended to earn higher math, science, and civics test scores, while students who frequently read for pleasure earned higher test scores in reading and writing than their peers who rarely read. Need some ideas on where to start? Check out the titles in our Big Read library.