Persistence of literacy problems: spelling in adolescence and at mid-life

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009 Aug;50(8):893-901. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02079.x. Epub 2009 Mar 31.


Background: Developmental reading problems show strong persistence across the school years; less is known about poor readers' later progress in literacy skills.

Method: Poor (n = 42) and normally developing readers (n = 86) tested in adolescence (ages 14/15 years) in the Isle of Wight epidemiological studies were re-contacted at mid-life (ages 44/45 years). Participants completed a spelling test, and reported on educational qualifications, perceived adult spelling competence, and problems in day-to-day literacy tasks.

Results: Individual differences in spelling were highly persistent across this 30-year follow-up, with correlations between spelling at ages 14 and 44 years of r = .91 (p < .001) for poor readers and r = .89 (p < .001) for normally developing readers. Poor readers' spelling remained markedly impaired at mid-life, with some evidence that they had fallen further behind over the follow-up period. Taking account of adolescent spelling levels, continued exposure to reading and literacy demands in adolescence and early adulthood was independently predictive of adult spelling in both samples; family social background added further to prediction among normally developing readers only.

Conclusions: By adolescence, individual differences in spelling and its related sub-skills are highly stable. Encouraging young people with reading disabilities to maintain their exposure to reading and writing may be advantageous in the longer term.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Career Choice
  • Child
  • Dyslexia / diagnosis*
  • Dyslexia / epidemiology
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Leisure Activities
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Reading
  • United Kingdom
  • Verbal Learning*
  • Writing*
  • Young Adult