Vocabulary depends on how much you read as a teenager

Our study of a representative sample of more than 9,400 British people born in 1970 looked at how vocabularies developed between the ages of 16 and 42. The test involved asking people to pair words from one list with words of a similar meaning from another list. For example, they were asked to find other words meaning “hirsute”, “grotesque” or “cerebral”.

The good news is that learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school years – whether they read regularly or not. In fact, our study members demonstrated large gains in vocabulary between the ages of 16 and 42. At age 16, their average vocabulary test score was 55%. By age 42, study members scored an average of 63% on the same test.

Another piece of good news is that reports of the death of reading seem to have been exaggerated. More than a quarter, or 26%, of respondents said that they read books in their spare time on a daily basis, with a further 33% saying that they read for pleasure at least once a month. This left a minority of 41% who said that they read in their leisure time only every few months or less often.