A consistent finding across all the adult literacy surveys from 1917 to 1992 reviewed in Part 1 is that the more education people have, the more reading of books, magazines, and newspapers they do, and the more highly skilled they are.
In this section of the Compendium, we introduce another salient finding across adult literacy surveys for the last quarter of a century. People with more highly educated parents are, themselves, likely to become the more highly educated, more extensively read, and highly skilled of the next generation.
Regarding the relationship between parent's education and the next generation's reading skills, Figure 85 shows reading skill data for 9, 13, and 17 year olds as well as young adults 25-35 years old. These data were obtained by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the early 1970s (see sources cited at Figure 85). In the NAEP survey, children and adults were tested on 8 different reading "themes" or skill areas, ranging from word meanings (vocabulary knowledge) to critical reading. As Figure 85 shows, regardless of the type of reading skill assessed, and at all ages, as parent's education increased, reading proficiency increased.
In Figure 86, data from the 1985 survey of young adult literacy skills are presented showing proficiency on the NAEP Prose literacy scale (see page 129). The figure shows parent's education levels on the horizontal (X) axis and the young adult's own years of education inside the figure. For instance, for parents with only 0-8 years of education and their adult children with only 0-8 years of education, the average Prose literacy score is 233. As the parent's education level increases, there is not much improvement in the proficiency of young adults with only 0-8 years of education. However, as the young adult's own education increases from 0-8 years of education, to some high school (HS), to post high school and to possession of a college degree, there is an interaction with parent's education level. The greater the parent's education and the greater their adult children's education, the higher the reading proficiency.
Figure 87 shows the relationships of mother's education to performance on the Armed Forces Qualification Test of 1980 for Whites, Hispanics and Blacks. Similar data are presented in Figure 88 for the 1985 NAEP survey of young adult literacy skills.
The data on the intergenerational transfer of literacy from parents to their children has provided a large part of the evidence to argue for "intergenerational literacy" or "family literacy" adult education programs. Today, both the federally-funded Head Start and Even Start programs aim to promote the intergenerational transfer of literacy from parents to children through family literacy programs.
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