Definitely divided by age
It reads like the title of a bestseller of the early 1990s: 'Women go to the library and write diaries, men surf the internet and never read manuals'. However, this is not a book about how to understand the opposite sex, but one of the findings from a recent research study of adult literacy in Iceland.
The study surveyed 321 men and women aged 17 to 70. The participants, who were visited and tested in the workplace, answered a questionnaire about reading and writing and also did a timed silent reading test. The study revealed significant differences in reading and writing habits according to age, sex and education.
The researchers, Elísabet Arnardóttir and Gudmundur Kristmundsson, told the NRDC conference that men were more likely to have negative memories of learning to read as a child, were less likely to read books in their spare time, and rarely went to the library. Women were more likely to keep a diary and help the children with homework, while men spent a lot of time reading material for their own enjoyment on the internet.
Older people were more likely to read every day 'for leisure' but were the poorest readers, at least in terms of speed, while younger people were more likely than older people to read magazines regularly. Although younger people appeared to read less for leisure, they did not necessarily include emails, text messages and other electronic reading in this category. Those who had experienced further education were more likely to read for enjoyment than less educated adults, but were less likely to keep a diary.
The participants were asked to assess how they thought they had performed in the timed reading test. Interestingly, this caused some people to become very bashful - 'lorry drivers became like children', said Kristmundsson. Men generally rated themselves at a lower level than women. Lack of confidence was also evident among some older participants, who had learnt to read at an early age but had subsequently lost faith in their reading and writing abilities.
The researchers added that their findings should be taken into account when planning adult literacy classes. Organising courses according to age and combining learning to write with using ICT could both prove fruitful.
The presentation by Arnardóttir and Kristmundsson can be found at www.nrdc.org.uk