Teenagers with low reading levels don’t find it any harder to get work

Cain Polidano, University of Melbourne and Chris Ryan, University of Melbourne

Teenagers with low reading levels, who went on to further education, don’t find it any harder to get a job at the age of 25, research shows.

At age 25, young Australians whose reading proficiency at age 15 was ranked low in the international literacy and numeracy test were employed at the same rates as those with higher levels of achievement.

For both the low (below level 3) and medium (level 3 and 4) reading proficiency groups, 58% were employed full-time, with a further 13-14% employed part-time.

Low proficiency levels in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests are deemed to be those at a level insufficient for students to perform the moderate reading tasks that are needed to meet real-life challenges and are below minimum Australian standards.

Around one-third of Australian 15 year olds had low reading proficiency levels, with just over one half were in the medium proficiency group.

The study also found that low school achievers work in jobs that have similar expected lifetime earnings as the medium reading proficiency group.

The results are particularly surprising because it is well known from other research that poor reading skills in adulthood are associated with poorer employment prospects and work in low-paid jobs.

It seems that not every teenager with low reading proficiency necessarily becomes an adult with poor reading skills.

Investment in VET is the key

These results can be explained by high rates of participation in, and good outcomes from, Vocational Education and Training (VET) by those with low reading proficiency.

Around 58% undertook VET study, 15% higher education study and 14% both.

In contrast, those from the medium group focused more on higher education — 42% higher education, 36% VET and 15% both.

Those from the low proficiency group compensate for studying below bachelor-level VET qualifications by choosing courses that have good labour market prospects.

Compared to the medium group which did not complete a university degree, the low group chose initial VET courses that had 6% higher graduate earnings.

It is thought that those with low reading proficiency at age 15 explore VET options from an early age.

Given the large number of VET courses available – and the fact that most are designed to prepare students for specific occupations – early career exploration may mean the low proficiency group is better prepared to make course choices.

Our approach

Australia is one of only a handful of countries with the capacity to track outcomes of PISA participants through its Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY).

In comparing outcomes, we also controlled for a range of differences between the student groups that may confound the analysis, such as family socioeconomic and demographic background and grade level at age 15.

The results rely on the survey respondents at age 25 being representative of those first surveyed at age 15, which can be problematic if attrition rates are high, as they are here at around 75%.

In the paper, we report a number of supplementary analyses that indicate that the results are unlikely to be affected by non-random attrition. The results also do not appear to reflect particularly high levels of motivation or ambition among the low skill group members who remain in the survey.

Implications for schools and policy

Further education and training plays a role in up-grading the skills of individuals.

A study of a Canadian PISA cohort reported that when respondents were re-tested at age 24, the reading levels among those who had undertaken post-school studies had increased from their age 15 levels.

The findings in our research underlines the role that VET plays in providing opportunities for low-achieving school students to engage further in study and participate fully in a modern economy.

It also demonstrates the importance of course choice in shaping outcomes.

For schools and education departments, the message is to not only ensure access to VET, but also to support young people in making good course choices. Early career counselling is a step in this direction.

We stress that these results do not mean that academic achievement is unimportant. On the contrary, we find more marked differences in labour market outcomes at 25 between those with high reading proficiency (levels 5 and above), suggesting substantial returns to achievement among the most skilled.

The Conversation

Cain Polidano, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne and Chris Ryan, Director, Economics of Education and Child Development, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Tallow Candle: Hans Christian Andersen

The link below is to an English translation of the recently discovered first work by Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Tallow Candle.’

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  1. PUBSLUSH Press is a new way to get books published – a way that is driven by readers, who also get to support the work along the way. Publishing via PUBSLUSH Press also helps less fortunate readers to get hold of material to read. Find out more via the article and videos below.

Article: Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work

The link below is to an article that investigates symbolism in the work of famous novelists and whether it was intentional.

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Free Book: Free Audio Books

The link below is to a website that offers free audio books in mp3, iPod or iTunes format. Perhaps you can ‘read’ a book while driving to work.

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Ebooks: Not There Yet?

The following article Wired lists five reasons as to why ebooks are not there yet. I would say that ebooks will never be the same as traditional books and they probably are never meant to be the same. I would also say you should probably never expect them to be the same. Television is not the same as going to the movies and never will be. I think waiting for ebooks to be the same as traditional books is to ensure you never use ebooks all that much. Just my opinion.

There are some useful considerations in the five points raised in the article – but there are also some fairly ordinary ones also, which suggest to me a bias against ebooks from the start. Being concerned that ebooks don’t allow you to use them in home design – I mean, really??? If that is a major concern with ebooks – you have to be kidding.

Some years ago I never thought I would ever like ebooks – I love them now and I don’t even have an ebook reader (I use by laptop) at this stage. I can see myself buying one in the near future – that would make ebooks so much more convenient to me. I could read one on a bus or ferry, I could read at work without too many difficulties (in my breaks of course), etc.

How many books can I now own? For a bibliophile like me ebooks are a dream come true. I have well over 1000 traditional books and I will soon eclipse that number in ebooks – many of which are old and out of print works which are very precious to me. These brilliant old books are now so accessible to me and I can store them all in such a small place. Fantastic I say.

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Post War – A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt

I have now started to read ‘Post War,’ by Tony Judt. The edition I have was published in 2005 by The Penguin Press. It is a massive work of over 900 pages, that includes both photographs and maps.

The period of history being dealt with is post war Europe from the end of World War II to 2005. It includes the immediate aftermath of World War II, right through the Cold War period and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Though I have only just started (yesterday) I have completed about 100 pages thus far, which has taken me through the preface, introduction and the first chapter, ‘The Legacy of War.’ The first chapter deals with the immediate aftermath of the war and its consequences for the people of Europe. It is an horrific picture of post war Europe and the devastation it had on the entirety of Europe – nations, cities and towns, peoples and families. It is the legacy of total war.