Économie et Statistique n° 490
ADULTS’ WRITING AND ARITHMETIC SKILLS
Adults’ writing skills and significant childhood events : using textual statistical analysis methods on the Information et vie quotidienne survey
As well as an innovative initiative for the measurement of adults writing skills, the Information et vie quotidienne survey (IVQ 2004 and 2011) also collect data relating to people's life-course. Rather than asking people about an array of significant childhood events, we made the choice in the 2011 survey to restrict the number of events and let previously unspoken responses emerge of their own accord by asking open-ended questions. Almost a quarter of respondents report "another significant event" in their childhood in response to this question. Among them, one in two mentions a death, one in ten a health-related event, and the same proportion mention a violent event experienced in childhood. The body of over 15,000 words collected in this way is treated using textual statistical analysis methods, which have been tried and tested over many years in the social sciences. The close link between the words used to recount these events and respondents' socio-demographic background reveals a first dimension in their organisation of vocabulary according to age and educational level. A detailed typology of the significant childhood events is then produced, taking into account the actors involved (Ego, siblings, parents, etc.) : it includes nine categories, in particular death, illness, accidents, violence, collective events (wars, natural disasters, etc.), schooling and other family events (divorce-separation, etc.), as well as many modalities. Based on this typology, a final analysis highlights the diversity of individual situations, combining biographical elements, living conditions and writing skills. A single profile (7 % of respondents) combines situations of illiteracy and a difficult childhood in a relatively violent family setting.