Can Reading Make You Wealthy? Countering the Matthew Effect and Other Influences

By Amandeep Kochar, Executive Vice President — Public Library Sales & Technology, Baker & Taylor

At the beginning of every new year, with a renewed sense of purpose we feel resolute and have countless discussions about improving our physical fitness, adopting healthier habits, and embracing regular exercise plans. It’s important, however, to not forget cerebral health and the importance of ensuring healthy cognitive habits and getting proper food for thought, so to speak.

But changing habits can be hard, whether it’s eating more vegetables or making more time for reading.

When it comes to reading, there’s significant evidence showing it is more difficult for some children to change habits after the third grade and improve their skills, leading to a vicious circle of frustration and ultimately resulting in school dropouts. Research also illustrates how these children who struggle with reading become further and further behind their peers, permanently limiting their future opportunity.

The Matthew Effect

Students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school—this is called The Matthew Effect. Keith E. Stanovich borrowed the term in 1986 to link reading and vocabulary acquisition with achievement. The term comes from the parable recorded by Matthew in 25:29 and refers to the idea that the ‘rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

Stanovich’s research shows that good readers read more, and become even better readers, while poor readers shy away from reading, limiting their growth and reading ability. The battle is lost by fourth grade; if students are not reading adequately out of school, they may never get close to their peers.

Socio-economic levels and parental education along with encouragement to read also impairs children from achieving their potential.

Prudence Carter, co-editor of the 2013 book titled “Closing the Opportunity Gap,” and a professor of Education and Sociology at Stanford University, described three different paths to academic success based on income levels. Children from the wealthiest families “board an elevator that speeds them to academic success,” while children from middle-class families take “smoothly operating escalators toward academic achievement goals.”In contrast, she states children from poor or lower-income families “stare up a steep stairwell, often with broken steps and no hand rails.”

The basic understanding that learners who engage in a significant amount of independent reading exhibit a positive outlook toward reading is supported by both qualitative research and backed by quantitative research. 13

Can early childhood reading acquisition be a predictor of 11th grade outcomes? Stanovich and co-author Anne E. Cunningham wrote that “an early start in reading is important in predicting a lifetime of literacy experience—and this is true regardless of the level of reading comprehension ability that the individual eventually attains.” On the topic of out-of-school-reading, they note, “it is likely that differences in out-of-school reading volume are an even more potent source of the rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer achievement patterns.” 12

A Herculean Task

Seventy-five percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest two levels of literacy, while 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.

In all, this creates a situation where children from low-income/welfare families face a herculean task for success achievement. Proof of this is the “30-million-word gap,” which refers to a research study conducted by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley.14 The Hart-Risley study showed that children from lower-income families hear a staggering 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they are 4 years old.

This is exacerbated by access to quality and relevant reading material. In 2007, Krashen wrote that “‘reluctant’ readers are often those who have little access to books … the most serious problem with current literacy campaigns is that they ignore, and even divert attention from, the real issue, a lack of access to books for children of poverty.”

Libraries Are the Great Equalizer

If we have a proven mantra for providing children with a more intelligent and successful life, what we need is a great equalizer that diminishes all societal factors like poverty, social economic divergence, lack of parental education, and encouragement for reading. The only public institution with the greatest impact on delivering literate communities that has stood the test of time other than schools are libraries.

A number of studies confirm that when given access to engaging reading material, most children and adolescents take full advantage. More access to books results in more reading; in fact, sometimes a single, brief exposure to good reading material results in a lifelong love affair with books—also known as the “Harry Potter effect”.15

Libraries have stood the test of time as a great equalizer by serving as a place where all families can access relevant, engaging content, professionals acting as a support system, and a counter balance to parental education levels that encourage life-long learning.

The positive impact of books and access to secondary reading materials on reading

achievement, creativity, developing language skills, and sustaining literacy has been widely

acknowledged. At Baker & Taylor, we aim to partner with communities and impact outcomes – and with that intent in mind created the “Community Sharing” Program to link public libraries and schools with an efficient ebooks and audiobooks sharing platform.

Students can now get access to a wide variety of interesting and relevant content from their public libraries right in their schools and classrooms. This enables educators to curate literacy and intervention programs without the constraints of a school’s supplemental content budget, all the while multiplying the return on investment of public tax dollars.

Intervene Early with Children

The most critical time to reinforce reading for pleasure and enrichment is when a child graduates from learning to read, to reading to learn. Intervention at this time could help ensure an upward spiral toward greater literacy and intelligence. In essence, reading leads to both personal and professional wealth.

Do you want to change the world and help leave it a happier, healthier, wealthier place, as well as a more empathic place? Be relentless in your pursuit to read, support libraries, encourage others to read, and intervene early with children.

Ensuring strong reading skills provides students with the one asset they will always appreciate, the one gift they will always cherish, and the one tool that will singlehandedly help provide them with a happy, successful, and content life.

Amandeep (Aman) Kochar joined Baker & Taylor in 2014 and is the Executive Vice President of Public Library Sales and Technology. Previously he was Chief Product Officer/SVP Product Development with McGraw- Hill. Prior to McGraw-Hill, Kochar served in various digital content and sales leadership roles with HCL Technologies, one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world. Additionally, he co-founded a successful startup in India called MKAS Media Transformation, which specializes in media software & consulting and development.

In addition to leading sales and market development efforts for the public library division at Baker & Taylor, Aman oversees software products and services across Baker & Taylor business lines including Axis 360, Title Source 360, collectionHQ, database licensing, Bibliostat Connect and Collect and Content Café. This includes guiding the entire product life cycle, product/technical development and support, customer service and account management, data licensing and project management.

Aman earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Delhi University and MBA from IIT Kharagpur.

Aman loves to travel and speaks three languages fluently. He loves to read everything from existential philosophy to fantasy fiction, his taste in books extends to films and he watches both English language and Foreign Cinema. He also believes in community values and is an avid contributor to local causes.


  1. Write Express Corporation. “Literacy Statistics.” Begin to Read. Accessed February 24, 2015.
  2. WriteExpress Corporation. “Literacy Statistics.” Begin to Read. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  3. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Students Who Don’t Read Well in Third Grade Are More Likely to Drop Out or Fail to Finish High School.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Accessed February 25, 2015.
  4. Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy. “Reach Higher, America Overcoming Crisis Ii The U.S. Workforce.” National Commission on Adult Literacy. Accessed April 16, 2014.
  5. Blankenship, John. “Functional illiteracy continues to grow, but there is help.” The Register-Herald. Accessed April 16, 2014. .
  6. National Center for Educational Statistics. “The Condition of Education, 2009.” U.S. Department of Education. Accessed February 24, 2015.
  7. WriteExpress Corporation. “Literacy Statistics.” Begin To Read. Accessed February 24, 2015.
  8. Hess, Alexander E.M., Samuel Weigley, and Michael B. Sauter. “America’s Most (and Least) Literate Cities.” 24/7 Wall Accessed April 16, 2014.
  9. Hess, Alexander E.M., Samuel Weigley, and Michael B. Sauter. “America’s Most (and Least) Literate Cities.” 24/7 Wall
  10. (Cunninghman and Stanovich, 1998, “what reading does for the mind” and “Early Reading Acquisition and Its Relation to Reading Experience and Ability 10 Years Later”)
  11. (Long and Henderson 1973; Greaney 1980; Hepler and Hickman 1982; Greaney and Hegarty 1987; Reutzel and Hollingsworth 1991; Shapiro and White 1991; Mathewson 1994; Barbieri 1995; Short 1995).
  12. The Early Catastrophe – American Federation of Teachers
  13. (Cho and Krashen 2002; Krashen 2007) – The Life-Enhancing Benefits of Reading in Out-of-School … – Scholastic…/After-School-Literacy-Brief-1.pdf