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Adult and youth literacy in 2010

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) released new literacy data in April 2012, with updated estimates of adult and youth literacy. In 2010, the latest year with data, 84% of the global population 15 years and older were estimated to be able to read and write (see Table 1). At the regional level, literacy rates are highest in Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In these regions at least 9 out of 10 adults are literate. Literacy rates can be assumed to be as high in North America and Western Europe but not enough countries in that region collect literacy data to allow the calculation of a regional average. By contrast, adult literacy rates are significantly lower in the Arab States (75%), and in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (63% in both regions). Women are considerably less likely to be literate than men in the Arab States, East Asia and the Pacific, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, the female adult literacy rate was estimated to be 80% in 2010, compared to a literacy rate of 89% for men. As a consequence, nearly two thirds (497 million) of the adult illiterate population in 2010 (775 million) were women.

Table 1: Adult and youth literacy rate, 2010
Region Adult literacy rate (%) Youth literacy rate (%)
Total Male Female Total Male Female
Arab States 74.7 83.3 65.7 89.1 92.4 85.6
Central Asia 99.5 99.6 99.4 99.7 99.6 99.8
Central and Eastern Europe 97.9 99.0 97.0 99.1 99.3 98.9
East Asia and the Pacific 94.2 96.7 91.6 98.8 98.9 98.7
Latin America and the Caribbean 91.4 92.1 90.7 97.2 97.0 97.4
North America and Western Europe - - - - - -
South and West Asia 62.7 74.0 51.8 80.5 86.6 74.7
Sub-Saharan Africa 62.6 71.0 54.2 71.8 76.4 66.8
World 84.1 88.6 79.7 89.6 92.2 87.1
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, April 2012

The disparities between regions with high and low literacy rates are readily apparent from the map in Figure 1, which displays the average literacy rate in the seven Education for All (EFA) regions with data listed in Table 1. For a description of the regional groupings, please refer to a past article about the EFA regions on this website.

Figure 1: Regional adult literacy rate, 2010

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, April 2012. - Click image to enlarge.

Youth literacy rates, for the population 15 to 24 years of age, are higher than adult literacy rates in all regions as a result of improved access to education among younger generations. Globally, 90% of all youth are able to read and write. Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean have reached or are approaching universal literacy among their young population. The same can be assumed for North America and Western Europe, but no regional average is available from the UIS (see Table 1 and Figure 2). The disparity in literacy rates between men and women is generally smaller among the population 15 to 24 years than among the population 15 years and older. Yet, in the Arab States, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, young women remain less likely to be able to read and write than young men. The global youth literacy rate in 2010 was 92% for men and 87% for women.

Figure 2: Regional youth literacy rate, 2010

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, April 2012. - Click image to enlarge.

The regional averages can conceal large differences between countries within a region. This is particularly true for the adult literacy rate in the Arab States, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa (see Figure 3). In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the adult literacy rate is below 30% in Burkina Faso and Niger - the countries with the least literate population worldwide - and above 90% in Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe.

Figure 3: Adult literacy rate, 2010

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, April 2012. - Click image to enlarge.

Disparities between countries within a region can also be observed for the youth literacy rate, but to a lesser degree than for the adult literacy rate (see Figure 4). Similar to the adult literacy rate, the greatest disparities exist in sub-Saharan Africa, where youth literacy rates range from 37% in Niger to 99% in the Seychelles and Zimbabwe.

Figure 4: Youth literacy rate, 2010

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, April 2012. - Click image to enlarge.

To make it easier to explore its literacy data, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has created an interactive visualization that combines a map showing adult and youth literacy rates, a graph with literacy rates by sex, and a scatter plot with the correlation between GDP per capita and literacy. A screenshot of the visualization is shown in Figure 5. The full visualization is available on the website of the UIS. Literacy data are also contained in the recently published World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education by UNESCO.

Figure 5: UIS data visualization with adult and youth literacy rate, 2010

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, May 2012. - Click image to enlarge.

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Friedrich Huebler, 31 May 2012 (edited 1 June 2012), Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2012/05/literacy.html

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