What is your earning potential across your life

How many non-school books were there in your house?

According to a recent report, you only need to answer two very simple questions about your childhood to find out your earning potential for your whole life. When you were 10 years old did you live in an urban or rural area? And, secondly, how many non-school books were there in the house: (a) 0-10 or (b) 11 or more?

A study by the World Economic Forum found that, on average, an additional year of education boosts lifetime earnings by around 9%. The study was restricted to those already in, or nearing, retirement. It was also all male, presumably because – in at least some of the countries studied – it was relatively uncommon for women to work full-time in the relevant era. But these gains were not evenly spread: an additional year of education was associated with a 21% gain in lifetime earnings for those with 11 or more books at home, but only a 5% gain for those with 10 or fewer. Furthermore, the gains associated with having more books at home were greater for those raised in the countryside than urban areas.

Of course, we have no idea whether the (then) children actually read those books more than half a century ago. We do know it wasn’t simply that having more books was a sign of affluence. Over 50% of “blue collar” homes were in the 11 books or more category, suggesting that children whose families value books – regardless of income – are indeed able to benefit more from school.