8 Facts: Adult Literacy Rates

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

December 10, 2014

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.

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.