Why do children read more? The influence of reading ability on voluntary reading practices

Elsje van Bergen*, Margaret J. Snowling, Eveline L. de Zeeuw, Catharina E.M. van Beijsterveldt, Conor V. Dolan, Dorret I. Boomsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: This study investigates the causal relationships between reading and print exposure and investigates whether the amount children read outside school determines how well they read, or vice versa. Previous findings from behavioural studies suggest that reading predicts print exposure. Here, we use twin-data and apply the behaviour-genetic approach of direction of causality modelling, suggested by Heath et al. (), to investigate the causal relationships between these two traits.

METHOD: Partial data were available for a large sample of twin children (N = 11,559) and 262 siblings, all enrolled in the Netherlands Twin Register. Children were assessed around 7.5 years of age. Mothers completed questionnaires reporting children's time spent on reading activities and reading ability. Additional information on reading ability was available through teacher ratings and performance on national reading tests. For siblings reading test, results were available.

RESULTS: The reading ability of the twins was comparable to that of the siblings and national norms, showing that twin findings can be generalized to the population. A measurement model was specified with two latent variables, Reading Ability and Print Exposure, which correlated .41. Heritability analyses showed that Reading Ability was highly heritable, while genetic and environmental influences were equally important for Print Exposure. We exploited the fact that the two constructs differ in genetic architecture and fitted direction of causality models. The results supported a causal relationship running from Reading Ability to Print Exposure.

CONCLUSIONS: How much and how well children read are moderately correlated. Individual differences in print exposure are less heritable than individual differences in reading ability. Importantly, the present results suggest that it is the children's reading ability that determines how much they choose to read, rather than vice versa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1205-1214
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number11
Early online date10 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • behaviour-genetics
  • causal modelling
  • Direction of causality models
  • print exposure
  • reading skills
  • twin studies


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