Just The Facts

8 Facts: Adult Literacy Rates

Adult literacy rates have been improving year on year since the 1950s.

Credit: Vaclav Mach www.shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Adult literacy rates have been improving year on year since 1950.
  • The vast majority of illiterate adults live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.
  • The number of illiterate adults in the world is equal to more than double the population of the United States.

1. The global literacy rate for adults is 84%, according to UNESCO data.

2. This means that there are 781 million adults worldwide — or about one in every ten people on the planet — who cannot read or write a simple message.

3. In percentage terms, however, the global literacy rate has increased dramatically over the last several decades — from 56% in 1950 to 76% in 1990.

4. Progress since 2000, when the global literacy rate was 82%, has been relatively slow.

5. Much of the recent progress has come in South and West Asia, where since 1990 the adult literacy rate has increased from 47% to 63%.

6. For South and West Asia’s young people, the gains have been even greater — from 61% to 81%.

7. About 597 million of the world’s illiterate population live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. That is 76% of all the illiterate people in the world.

The Upshot:
 
 
Ten of the 11 countries in the world with adult literacy rates of less than 50% are in Sub-Saharan Africa. This underscores the region’s dire lack of economic development and educational resources. Haiti is the one outside of Africa.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics with analysis by The Globalist Research Center.

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