Humanities Indicators
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Reading to Young Children by Family Members
(Updated September 2016)

The humanities are fundamentally (though not exclusively) about language, and substantial evidence supports the idea that early experience with reading prepares young children for later success as students. Family members often provide the first reading experience for children, and their involvement thus serves as an important indicator of future achievement. The analysis that follows focuses on the relationship between a mother’s education and reading to young children but presents data for additional characteristics, including income, mother’s employment status, and child’s race/ethnicity.

Findings and Trends

  • In the first two years for which data are available, a statistically significant uptick was observed in the share of children ages 3–5 (not yet in kindergarten) who were read to three or more times per week by a family member (from 78% in 1993 to 84% in 1995; Indicator V-2). Over the next 17 years, however, the share held steady (the year-to-year changes depicted in the graph are not statistically significant).[1]
  • When the data are broken out by the education level of mothers, however, we see more volatility. For mothers with only a high school diploma, the percentage of children read to by family members declined over the mid-2000s. The share of children of mothers without a high school diploma who were read to by family members rose from 2007 to 2012, making them the only group
  • The likelihood of a young child being read to on a regular basis by a family member increases with the educational level of his or her mother. Throughout the 1993–2012 time period, at least 90% of young children whose mothers possessed at least a bachelor’s degree were read to a minimum of three times per week, while the proportion peaked at 82% for the children of mothers with only a high school education.

For data on other family characteristics, make a selection from the drop-down menu in the upper right-corner of the data visualization window below. For the standard errors needed to determine whether year-to-year changes are statistically significant, please see

V-2: Percentage of Children Ages 3–5* Who Were Read to at Least Three Times in the Previous Week by a Family Member, by Selected Characteristics, 1993–2012

* Limited to children who had yet to enter kindergarten. Not all year-to year changes are statistically significant at the 5% level. See for the standard errors associated with the estimates depicted in the graphs.

** Including vocational/technical/associate’s degree.

Source: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2016).

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[1] At the 5% level. See for the standard errors associated with the estimates depicted in the graphs.