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last updated: 6/14/2013

Data Pathfinders: World Literacy Statistics

Basic Print Sources | Electronic Resources Online




Basic Print Sources

First of all, one should keep in mind that literacy/illiteracy/reading levels are obviously related to education. Therefore, another pathfinder--the one on Education--should help out quite a bit. Take a look at all general publications listed on that page, especially National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) publications. Tables and graphs on literacy and closely related topics can often be found in such easy-to-use publications. Secondly, it seems that publications dealing specifically with literacy in the United States are not easy to use. Each data provider or agency will approach the problem of quantifying "literacy" much differently and, as a result, a data user simply must spend a good bit of time familiarizing him/herself with the methodology. Thirdly, the best publications specifically dealing with literacy are normally good at international literacy data. This is probably because illiteracy is considered a much more crippling problem for non-first world (or "developing" or "third world") countries. Keep in mind that, in this regard, electronic web resources are probably better than any of the print resources.

Note: Some locations of print materials may have changed. Consult IUCAT for current locations.

International Literacy Statistics in Print

  • Literacy, Economy, and Society: Results of the First International Adult Literacy Survey. Statistics Canada 1997.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- LC 149. L58 1995].
    This is really an excellent source. The graphs and tables contained within can, in most instances, stand on their own. In other words, they are easily digestible--the student need not bother so much with going over the methodology. Obviously a major undertaking, this extremely well written and well organized publication is strongly recommended.

  • Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society: Further Results from the First International Adult Literacy Survey. Statistics Canada 1997.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- LC 149 .L49842 1997].
    The sequel! And also very helpful for the reasons given above.

  • Literacy in the Information Age. Statistics Canada 2000.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- LC 149 .L59 2000].
    And here is the final installment in Statistics Canada?s very nice trilogy.

  • Compendium of Statistics on Illiteracy. UNESCO 1995.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- LC 149. C66 1995].
    Statistics are given for all "developing" countries. By sex and age/age group and also by year (1980, 1990, 1995, as well as projections for 2000 and 2010) and, in some instances, by world subregion (e.g., "Sub-Saharan Africa"). Unsurprisingly, some countries' governments do a better job of keeping such stats than others, while some countries don't bother themselves with keeping such stats at all (a fact that probably says quite a bit about the state of literacy in that country, actually).

  • 2001 World Development Indicators. World Bank 2001.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- HC 59 .69 .W68].
    This is a great multi-purpose resource to keep in mind whenever you're looking for international (especially third world) statistics. It contains several relevant tables, such as Table 2.14 (Education outcomes) and Table 1.3 (Literacy-Gender Parity Index). Worth a look.

  • Trends in Developing Economies. World Bank 1996.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- HC 59 .69 T74].
    Provides key socioeconomic indicators for all developing countries, including illiteracy. Provides stats for each country's region and lower income population right alongside the country's overall literacy rate.

U. S. Literacy Statistics in Print

  • The State of Literacy in America: Estimates at the Local, State, and National Levels. National Institute for Literacy 1998.
    [ET2 Reference Desk -- Y3 .L71:2 ST 2].
    Actually, this source is quite easy to use. It provides literacy statistics for every single county in every single state--believe it or not! Statistics are also provided for significant municipalities. That's all this source does, but this data sure is helpful!

  • National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP) Reading Report Card for the Nation and States. NCES 1999.
    [ET2 Stacks -- ED 1.302:R 22/15].
    A data searcher must familiarize him/herself with new terminology (or terminology that is being used in a very specific way by the authors, like "proficiency"--what is and is not "proficient" is obviously arbitrary!). A list of tables are provided in the table of contents--look here first. Tables are on such topics as Reading Achievement levels by race, by gender, by region, by parents' highest educational level. 1992, 1994, and 1998 editions are found together in the stacks, as well as other NAEP publications. The findings contained within are quite thorough.

  • Reading Literacy in the United States: Findings from the IEA Reading Literacy Survey. NCES 1996.
    [ET2 Stacks -- ED 1.302:R 22/10].
    This resource compares U.S. literacy levels to other countries (i.e. the "OECD mean"). The references/works cited in the back of the book might help, too.

  • The Beginning Reading Instruction Study. Office of Educational Research and Improvement 1993.
    [ET2 Stacks -- ED 1.302:R 22/3].
    In case you haven't noticed, the majority of U.S. publications are results of in-depth surveys. That is probably why they are so difficult to use.

  • NAEP Factsheets. NCES 1995-99.
    [ET2 Stacks -- ED 1.341: and ED 1.335:].
    A collection of brief handouts--topics include: Oral fluency; home support for literacy; reading assessment for 4th- and 8th-graders; long-term trends in student reading and writing performance.

  • Literacy Behind Prison Walls: Profiles of the Prison Population from the National Adult Literacy Survey.
    [ET2 , Stacks -- ED 1.302:L 71/3].

  • Literacy in the Labor Force: Results form the National Adult Literacy Survey. NCES 1999.
    [ET2 Stacks -- ED 1.302:L 71/9].
    The connection between socioeconomic status and literacy in this and other countries should be pretty obvious, but this publication makes it more so. From the introduction, about the test itself: "Each survey participant was asked to spend approximately an hour responding to a series of diverse literacy tasks as well as questions about his or her demographic characteristics, educational background, labor force status, job characteristics, reading practices, and other areas related to literacy. Based on their responses to the survey tasks, adults received proficiency scores along three scales which reflect varying degrees of skill in prose, document, and quantitative literacy... ."


Electronic Resources Online



last updated: 6/14/2013