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Adult and youth literacy in 2011

8 September is International Literacy Day, an occasion to reflect on the status of literacy worldwide. Globally, 84% of all adults 15 years and older were able to read and write in 2011, the most recent year for which the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has released data (see Table 1). Two regions, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, are near universal literacy, with adult literacy rates of 99% and 100%, respectively. Literacy rates are assumed to be at a similarly high level in North America and Western Europe but data coverage is insufficient for the calculation of a regional average. Literacy rates are also high in East Asia and the Pacific (95%) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (92%). In the remaining regions, adult literacy rates are below the global average: Arab States (77%), South and West Asia (63%), and sub-Saharan Africa (59%).

Male and female adult literacy rates are at nearly the same levels in three regions: Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (see Table 1). In the Arab States, East Asia and the Pacific, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, female literacy rates are lower than male literacy rates. The gender parity index (GPI), the ratio of the female over the male literacy rate, shows that the biggest gender gap exists in South and West Asia (GPI 0.70) and in sub-Saharan Africa (GPI 0.74). Globally, the male literacy rate is 89% and the female literacy rate 80%, which yields a GPI of 0.90, far below the range of gender parity with GPI values between 0.97 and 1.03.

Table 1: Adult and youth literacy rate, 2011
Region Adult literacy rate (%) Youth literacy rate (%)
Total Male Female GPI Total Male Female GPI
Arab States 76.9 84.7 68.4 0.81 89.9 93.2 86.5 0.93
Central and Eastern Europe 98.5 99.3 97.8 0.99 99.3 99.5 99.2 1.00
Central Asia 99.5 99.6 99.4 1.00 99.7 99.6 99.8 1.00
East Asia and the Pacific 94.7 96.9 92.5 0.95 98.9 98.9 98.8 1.00
Latin America and the Caribbean 91.6 92.2 90.9 0.99 97.1 96.8 97.4 1.01
North America and Western Europe - - - - - - - -
South and West Asia 62.8 74.0 51.9 0.70 80.7 86.8 74.9 0.86
Sub-Saharan Africa 59.1 68.1 50.6 0.74 69.5 75.6 63.7 0.84
World 84.1 88.6 79.9 0.90 89.5 92.2 86.8 0.94
Note: GPI = gender parity index.
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, September 2013.

National adult literacy rates are displayed in Figure 1. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia have generally lower literacy rates than countries in other regions. In 11 countries, nearly all in sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than half of all adults are able to read and write: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Figure 1: Adult literacy rate, 2011

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, September 2013. - Click image to enlarge.

The UIS estimates that the adult illiterate population was 774 million in 2011 (see Table 2). Three out of four illiterate adults live in only two regions: South and West Asia (407 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (182 million). In all regions, the number of illiterate women is larger than the number of illiterate men. Globally, 493 million or two thirds of the adult illiterate population are female.

Table 2: Adult and youth illiterate population, 2011
Region Adult illiterate population (000) Youth illiterate population (000)
Total Male Female % female Total Male Female % female
Arab States 47,603 16,082 31,521 66.2 6,037 2,099 3,938 65.2
Central and Eastern Europe 4,919 1,104 3,815 77.5 386 157 229 59.4
Central Asia 290 108 182 62.7 45 30 14 32.5
East Asia and the Pacific 89,478 26,356 63,122 70.5 4,081 2,005 2,076 50.9
Latin America and the Caribbean 35,614 15,994 19,620 55.1 3,043 1,676 1,367 44.9
North America and Western Europe - - - - - - - -
South and West Asia 407,021 147,352 259,669 63.8 61,778 22,316 39,461 63.9
Sub-Saharan Africa 181,950 70,535 111,414 61.2 47,558 19,196 28,362 59.6
World 773,549 280,366 493,184 63.8 123,198 47,626 75,571 61.3
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, September 2013.

The global youth literacy rate, for the population 15 to 24 years of age, was 90% in 2011 (see Table 1). Youth literacy rates are higher than adult literacy rates in all regions, a result of increased levels of school attendance among younger generations. Of the regions with data, four are near universal youth literacy: Central and Eastern Europe (99%), Central Asia (100%), East Asia and the Pacific (99%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (97%). In the Arab States, the youth literacy rate is 90%. In South and West Asia (81%) and sub-Saharan Africa (70%), the youth literacy rate is below the global average.

Literacy rates among the population 15-24 years are not only higher than among the total population 15 years and older, there is also a smaller gap between the literacy rates of young men and women (see Table 1). However, gender disparity in youth literacy is observed in the Arab States (GPI 0.93), South and West Asia (GPI 0.86), and sub-Saharan Africa (GPI 0.84); in these regions, young women are less likely to be able to read and write than young men. At the global level, the male youth literacy rate is 92% and the female youth literacy rate 87%.

National youth literacy rates are displayed in Figure 2. Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the one region where youth literacy rates are significantly lower than in other regions. Seven countries have youth literacy rates below 50%: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, and Niger.

Figure 2: Youth literacy rate, 2011

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, September 2013. - Click image to enlarge.

The youth illiterate population, a subset of the adult illiterate population, was estimated at 123 million in 2011 (see Table 2). Illiterate youth are concentrated in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; 89% of the global population of illiterate youth live in these two regions. Whereas women are the majority of illiterate adults in all regions, there is no such clear pattern among illiterate youth. In two regions, Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, young men are more likely to lack basic reading and writing skills than young women. Even so, 61% of the global number of illiterate youth are female.

More detailed statistics and analysis are available from the the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, including a page with an interactive world map with adult and youth literacy rates, a fact sheet on adult and youth literacy, an infographic for International Literacy Day 2013, and a report on national, regional and global trends in adult and youth literacy between 1985 and 2015.

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External links

Friedrich Huebler, 8 September 2013, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2013/09/literacy.html

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