In a rapidly changing world, literacy stands as a critical factor of progress and equality. But how does the global literacy landscape look as we navigate the 21st century? In today’s article I will dive into the most relevant literacy statistics from around the globe, offering insights into both successes and ongoing challenges. From technological impacts to policy shifts, we'll explore not just the numbers but what they mean for communities and nations.
Which Country Has The Highest Rate Of Literacy?
According to the most recent data, there are actually seven different countries that have a 100% literacy rate, meaning that every citizen in these countries is literate, reflecting the high standard of education in these countries. These countries are: Finland, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Greenland, Liechtenstein, and Uzbekistan.
Which Country Has The Lowest Literacy Rate?
The country with the lowest literacy rate in the world is Niger, with a literacy rate of only 19.1%. This low rate is primarily attributed to factors like poverty, limited access to education, and cultural norms that may not prioritize formal education. As a matter of fact, current challenges such as underfunded education systems, a shortage of qualified teachers, and political instability do contribute to this situation.
Literates vs Illiterates Percentages
Since there are actually seven countries that have a 100% literacy rate, if you’re asking yourself what is the percentage of literate and illiterate people in the world, don’t be surprised to find out that actually, as a whole, the global literacy rate is high. The literacy rate for all males and females that are at least 15 years old is 86.3%, so subsequently, approximately 13.7% of the world's population that is at least 15 years old is considered illiterate.
Literacy Rate By Country Is Not Even
While overall world’s literacy is high, there are massive country-to-country differences. Developed nations almost always have an adult literacy rate of 96% or better, while the least developed countries manage an average literacy rate of only 65%.
Even though it sounds logical, this number is actually really hard to calculate for 2 main reasons: many countries do not report their literacy every year; and not all countries have the same definitions as to what qualifies as literacy.
Literacy Rates By Generation
One of the best ways to track how much progress has been made around the world in terms of literacy is by analyzing the differences between literacy in youths that are 15 to 24 years old and adults aged 65 and older. According to data from The World Bank, the most recent number for literacy in young people sits at 93%. Typically, younger generations tend to have higher literacy rates compared to older generations. This trend is largely due to improvements in access to education and educational reforms over time.
So, if we take into account UNESCO’s last time comparing both groups, when they suggested that elders are approximately 13% behind younger adults, then we can expect elders to have a literacy rate of around 80%.
Literacy & Poverty Relationship
Poverty and illiteracy usually go hand-in-hand. Education is often less available in poverty-stricken areas, and even when education is available, a struggling family might need their children to work and earn money instead of going to school. Most of the countries with the lowest literacy are located in South Asia, West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa—regions which also include most of the poorest countries in the world. If we take into account the top 10 countries with the lowest literacy rate, these countries would have an average literacy of just 37.2%
Literacy Rates and Gender
There’s also a gender gap in literacy, given the fact that out of the roughly 781 million adults worldwide who are illiterate, nearly 66% are female. This trend is more evident in less-developed countries, in which women are often expected to stay at home and care for the house and children while the men go off to work. Developed countries, on the other hand, have much higher literacy rates with smaller gaps—if any—between the genders.
50 Years Ago, The Global Literacy Rate Was 67%
Over the last 50 years, the global literacy rate among adults has increased from 67% to 86%. This improvement reflects the global efforts in education but also points to the need for continued focus, especially in regions lagging behind.
Conflict Zones and Literacy
In regions affected by conflict, literacy rates are particularly impacted. Conflicts lead to destruction of educational infrastructure and displacement of educators, severely limiting access to education, according to Concern Worldwide.
- Children in conflict-affected countries are 30% less likely to complete primary school than those in non-conflict affected countries.
- Only 50% of refugee children have access to primary education, compared with a global level of over 90%
Conflict often leads to displacement of populations, disrupting children's education as they lose access to their regular schools and teachers. Often, the trauma experienced in conflict zones can affect learning and cognitive development, making education more challenging. In other occasions, resources may be diverted away from education to immediate survival needs or military efforts. And finally, children in conflict zones might be forced into labor or armed groups, further hindering their access to education.
Literacy Statistics in The US By State
New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont, and South Dakota have the highest adult literacy rates in the US. In contrast, states like California, New York, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey have the lowest literacy rates, according to data by PIAAC.
Literacy and Employment in The US
That same study revealed that In the US, adults with low literacy skills earn approximately $34,000 annually, nearly half of what higher literacy level workers earn, highlighting the strong correlation between literacy and earning potential. Also, one-third of adults with low literacy are unemployed.
Literacy and Youth Conviction in the US
As shown by ProLiteracy, two-thirds of US students who are not proficient in reading by the end of fourth grade end up in jail or on welfare. Approximately 85% of juveniles in the court system are functionally illiterate, emphasizing the link between literacy and legal troubles.
Illiteracy and Crime in the US
According to the United States’ Department of Justice, “the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure”, closely relating illiteracy and crime. As a matter of fact, more than 70% of inmates in America’s prisons can’t read above a fourth grade level
Children of Illiterate Parents Have a 72% Chance of Being Illiterate When Adults
As reported by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the children of parents with low literacy levels have a 72% chance of being at the lowest level of literacy when they become adults, creating a cycle of illiteracy and poverty that can span generations.
Low Literacy Costs Around $225 billion to the US
Low literacy in the US costs an estimated $225 billion in lost workforce productivity, crime, and tax revenue, plus additional costs for welfare programs. According to BeginToRead, most welfare recipients and food stamp users have low literacy levels, indicating a cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
Raising Every American’s Literacy Level to 6th Grade Would Generate $2.2 Trillion
Another study estimated that raising every American adult’s literacy rate to a 6th-grade reading level would generate an additional $2.2 trillion a year for the U.S. economy.
200 Years Ago, Only 1 Out Of 10 People Was Literate
The World Economic Forum revealed that the literacy rate of the world's population from secondary school age onward was only 12% in 1820, which is around 1 person out of 10. This contrasts heavily with today’s nearly 87% percentage, which is equivalent to 9 out of 10 people knowing how to read and write.
In conclusion, the statistics presented in this article remind us that literacy is a fundamental human right, central to personal empowerment and societal development. As we continue to advocate for and work towards inclusive and accessible education for all, we can aim for a future where literacy is not a privilege but a norm accessible to every individual, regardless of their geographical or socio-economic status.