Skip to content The Open University
  1. Research at the OU
  2. News and events
  3. Why boys from low-income families read for pleasure less than girls

Why boys from low-income families read for pleasure less than girls

OU researchers have found new explanations of why boys from low-income families read for pleasure much less than girls and other groups of young people.

The research report: Understanding boys’ disengagement with reading for pleasure, conducted by Dr Amelia Hempel-Jorgensen, Research Fellow in the OU’s Faculty Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, will be shared at the UK Literacy Association (UKLA) National Conference on Finding and Sharing Pleasure in Reading on Saturday 18 March. The study was funded by The British Academy and The Leverhulme Trust.

"We found that the perceptions that teachers had about the ‘disadvantaged’ boys influenced their teaching practices and their understandings of reading."
Dr Hempel-Jorgensen found that boys in schools with high proportions of low-income backgrounds are affected by teachers’ perceptions of their ‘ability’, gender, ethnicity and social class. This, combined with an understanding of reading as a matter of proficiency and individual and solitary rather than social, led to impoverished teaching practices for reading. This was despite the fact that the schools involved in the study all engaged in teaching practices ostensibly aimed at encouraging children to read for pleasure. The practices, as observed in the schools, constrain the boys’ volition as readers to engage with texts of their choice and to socialise around these texts, and have a negative impact on the boys’ engagement with reading for pleasure. This constrains them as readers as the will to read is known to positively influence the skill and vice versa.

The study looked at eight struggling boy and three struggling girl readers aged 9-10 years in four schools with high proportions of children eligible for Free School Meals. Importantly, these schools had invested significantly in resources and teaching practices to enhance children’s reading and their pleasure in it.

Dr Hempel-Jorgensen said: “We found that the perceptions that teachers had about the ‘disadvantaged’ boys influenced their teaching practices and their understandings of reading, prompting them to focus on raising attainment in tests at the expense of reading for enjoyment.

As a consequence the boys become trapped in their positions as struggling readers who do not engage in volitional reading for pleasure. This influences their orientation towards reading for pleasure and is an important reason for their disengagement as readers. “

The report will be announced at the same time as the OU launches The Research Rich Pedagogies website which centrally focuses on reading for pleasure. This has been developed by Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy and her colleagues in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies in conjunction with the UK Literacy Association (UKLA).

Professor Teresa Mary Cremin

Professor (Literacy)

School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport

Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies

Professional biography


Dr Amelia Hempel-Jorgensen

Research Fellow

School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport

Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies

Professional biography