Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy
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Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy

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Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy

Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy

Literacy is a fundamental building block that can lead to a strong education, the ability to solve complex problems, and gaining the skills and knowledge to participate meaningfully in society. As a result, it’s also an important facilitator of economic development.

However, it’s estimated that nearly 800 million adults around the world still lack basic literacy skills—and this can create ongoing drag on the economy.

In the U.S., as one example, the people with the lowest literacy scores are 16.5x more likely to receive financial aid from the government. At the same time, they are also more likely to be in the lowest earning wage group, earning less than $300 per week.

Today’s post uses charts from Our World in Data, and it shows what literacy looks like on a global scale, and how is it shifting from generation to generation.

Global Literacy: The Big Picture

Over the past two centuries, global literacy has seen steady growth.

In the year 1800, it’s estimated that a mere 12.1% of the world was able to read and write. The most recent data shows the numbers have actually flipped—and now just 13.8% of the global population is illiterate.

It’s clear that from a high level, progress towards global literacy is being made.

But at the same time, a look at the graph shows that in more recent years, the rate of change has been slowing as we reach the “last mile” of literacy.

The Generational Perspective

Learning to read and write is easiest and most fruitful at a young age, and it’s a skill that is very unlikely to be lost later in life. For that reason, it’s worth looking at the difference between older and younger generations in terms of who is learning these skills.

For this, we zoom into the Middle East and Northern Africa region, which is where the majority of recent gains in literacy have been made:

Illiterate population by generation

Here, the difference in literacy between the 15-24 year age group and those over 65 years is substantial, with countries seeing large, double-digit increases in the ability to read and write:

  • 🇩🇿 Algeria
    The literacy rate is at 92% for the 15-24 age group, compared to 16% of the oldest generation
  • 🇮🇷 Iran
    99% of the 15-24 age group is literate, while 29% of the oldest generation can say the same
  • 🇴🇲 Oman
    98% of those aged 15-24 are literate, compared to just 23% in the 65+ age group
  • 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
    98% of those aged 15-24 can read and write, versus 26% of those in the oldest bracket
  • 🇪🇷 Eritrea
    The literacy rate is at 90% for the 15-24 age group, and 18% for those in the 65+ age group

It’s not that surprising then, that the above countries all now sit in the 75-95% percent range for overall literacy—a number that will likely improve further as education systems continue to help younger generations become literate early in life.

The Literacy Opportunity

While some countries have seen obvious generational improvements in literacy, there are places in the world where changes to educational systems have not fully yet manifested yet, or perhaps the data is not yet available for.

According to the interactive map above, here are some places on each continent where progress must still be made:

  • North America
    Literacy rates: 🇭🇹 Haiti (61%), 🇬🇹 Guatemala (79%), 🇳🇮 Nicaragua (82%)
  • South America
    Literacy rates: 🇬🇾 Guyana (88%)
  • Europe
    Literacy rates: 🇽🇰 Kosovo (92%)
  • Asia
    Literacy rates: 🇦🇫 Afghanistan (38%), 🇵🇰 Pakistan (56%), 🇧🇩 Bangladesh (61%), 🇾🇪 Yemen (70%)
  • Africa
    Literacy rates: 🇳🇪 Niger (19%), 🇬🇳 Guinea (30%), 🇸🇸 South Sudan (32%), 🇲🇱 Mali (33%), 🇨🇫 Central African Republic (37%), 🇸🇴 Somalia (38%), 🇧🇯 Benin (38%)
  • Oceania
    Literacy rates: 🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea (62%)

With many NGOs and educators focused on this problem, there is hope that the “last mile” of global literacy can be solved, leading to more economic opportunity in these places—and also the world itself as a whole.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Misc

Mapped: Top Trending Searches of 2021 in Every U.S. State

From presidential elections, to cryptocurrencies and billionaires, here are the trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021.

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Map of trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021

The Trending Searches in 2021

Google’s data editor Simon Rogers once said, “You’re never as honest as you are with your search engine. You get a sense of what people genuinely care about and genuinely want to know.”

This look at trending searches for every U.S. state is a window into the topics people were truly curious about in 2021. From political tensions to meme stocks, and from Elon Musk to a devastating tornado, we saw a wide range of trending searches throughout the year.

In the above animated video, Reddit user u/V1Analytics pulls together the top trending search terms from Google’s 2021 Year in Search summary (for the period before mid-November 2021) and Google’s Daily Search Trends page (from mid-November to December 20th) to illustrate the daily trends for each state.

It’s fascinating to see what Americans were looking up this year.

Trending Searches Offer a Glimpse of American Psyche

In the year when COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, many Americans turned to the world’s most popular search engine to figure out how to come back to a life of normalcy.

In 2021, the search entries spoke to people’s interest in alternative assets like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well as persistent economic insecurity, evidenced by questions about when they would get their stimulus checks.

Entertainers and billionaires trended throughout the year, and so did topics of significant cultural impact at those moments in time.

Here is a look at the trending searches of 2021 and when they were searched most:

TopicTrending MonthsCategory
BidenJanuaryPolitical Figure
CapitolJanuaryMonuments
Mega MillionsJanuaryCulture
GMEJanuaryGaming
DogecoinJanuary, April, MayCryptocurrency
The WeekndFebruaryEntertainment
ValheimFebruaryGaming
Power OutageJune, July, AugustSociety
Stimulus CheckMarchSociety
Lil Nas XMarchEntertainment
DMXAprilEntertainment
Prince PhilipAprilFamous Personalities
Jake PaulApril, AugustContent Creator
AMC StockMay, June, AugustEntertainment
Jeff BezosJulyBusinessman
Simone BilesJulyAthlete
AfghanistanAugust, SeptemberCountry
Hurricane IdaAugustClimate Change
Gabby PetitoSeptemberCrime
Squid GameOctoberTV Shows
Alec BaldwinOctoberActor
Travis ScottNovemberEntertainment
Kyle RittenhouseNovemberCrime
AdeleNovemberEntertainment
TornadoDecemberClimate Change
Elon MuskDecemberBusinessman

Notable Trending Searches in 2021

Here’s a look at a few of the notable searches that trended across the U.S. in 2021:

President Biden and Capitol

Unsurprisingly, the year started with news of the presidential election and the U.S. Capitol riot, as President Biden was set to take office.

In six states, however, the top trending search was still related to the Mega Millions jackpot, even as individuals stormed the Capitol Building.

Valheim

One of the most sought-after games of the year, Valheim, came on the market in February, 2021. By August, it had garnered over 8 million users. The developing company’s new Hearth and Home patch has skyrocketed the game’s appeal even more.

Stimulus Check

In March, the U.S. government unveiled their plan to distribute the third stimulus check to Americans.

People started looking for more information about when they would be getting their checks and if there had been any changes in the amount they would receive.

Dogecoin

Created in 2013 as a parody of Bitcoin, Dogecoin saw record trading levels in May 2021. This was in part due to Elon Musk supporting the cryptocurrency.

The Dogecoin market capitalization surged to a peak of $88 billion, worth more than three-quarters of the companies in the S&P 500.

AMC Stock

After suffering significant losses due to the pandemic-related shuttering of theaters across the country, AMC Entertainment became a fan favorite of Reddit-based retail traders who drove the share price up beyond what most analysts considered reasonable.

AMC’s stock price rose by 95% in a couple of days, reaching a record high of $63 per share. This was the latest phase of the meme stock frenzy.

Afghanistan

President Biden decided to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, 2021, ending the longest war the country has ever fought.

As an immediate consequence of the withdrawal, the Taliban militia took over the country and the government. The event, which was broadcast in near real-time, caused widespread panic among the citizens as some attempted to flee the country.

What’s in Store for 2022

It’s going to be everyone’s best guess as to what the trending searches for 2022 will be. Based on the events that dominated the news throughout the year, a few predictions could be made.

Experts predict that we will be moving to an endemic stage of the pandemic, which is bound to profoundly impact how we live in 2022.

New trends, movies, TV shows, and even newer gadgets will surely catch everyone’s attention next year. It will be fascinating to see what’s on the minds of people in the coming 12 months.

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Misc

The Most Commonly Spoken Language in Every U.S. State (Besides English and Spanish)

The U.S. is home to a plethora of languages. Here we map the most common language spoken in each state (aside from English and Spanish)

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Map of the most commonly spoken languages apart from English or Spanish in every U.S. State

The Most Common Spoken Household Languages

We typically operate under the assumption that most Americans speak either English or Spanish. Though this is true in the broadest sense, the U.S. is a culturally diverse country, home to a plethora of languages.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) annually asks more than 1 million Americans questions about their lives, families, and backgrounds. One question asks respondents what language they mainly speak in their homes.

Migration Policy has used this data (while excluding English and Spanish) to leave us with the next-most-frequently spoken languages at home in each state.

Non-English Languages in the U.S.

In 2019, approximately 78% (241 million) of all 308.8 million people ages five and older reported speaking only English at home regardless of their nativity. The remaining 22% (67.8 million) reported speaking a language other than English at home.

Based on this data, Mandarin and Cantonese were the most common non-English, non-Spanish languages spoken in the U.S., with more than 3.4 million speakers across the country.

Here is a list of the most common languages spoken at home in the U.S., outside of English:

LanguagePopulation EstimateShare of Foreign Language Speakers
Spanish41,757,00061.6%
Cantonese and Mandarin3,495,0005.2%
Tagalog1,764,0002.6%
Vietnamese1,571,0002.3%
Arabic1,260,0001.9%
French and Louisiana French1,172,0001.7%
Korean1,075,0001.6%
Russian941,0001.4%
Haitian Creole925,0001.4%
German895,0001.3%
Hindi893,0001.3%
Portuguese846,0001.2%
Afro-Asiatic Languages590,0000.9%
West African Languages589,0000.9%
Indo-European Languages576,0000.8%
West Germanic Languages560,0000.8%
Italian540,0000.8%

Tagalog is the second most commonly spoken language in American households (after English/Spanish) with 1.7 million speakers, even though it only reaches top spot in Nevada. Unsurprisingly, Louisiana and states bordering eastern Canada have a healthy number of French speakers.

Further analysis of these common languages reveals a fascinating story. Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 most commonly spoken second languages (excluding English and Spanish), and the states where they’re spoken.

1. Cantonese and Mandarin

Estimated number of speakers nationally: 3,495,000

Number of states where it’s the most common: 17

States that most commonly speak the language: California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

Chinese immigrants have been coming to America in large numbers since the mid-19th century, when the California Gold Rush compelled them to cross the Pacific Ocean. Today, there are over 5 million Chinese Americans across the country.

2. Tagalog

Estimated number of speakers nationally: 1,764,000

Number of states where it’s the most common: 1

States that most commonly speak the language: Nevada

Immigrants from the Philippines started coming to America in large numbers by the turn of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1965 that both skilled and educated workers came by the thousands. Today, there are over 4 million Filipino Americans.

3. Vietnamese

Estimated number of speakers nationally: 1,571,000

Number of states where it’s the most common: 5

States that most commonly speak the language: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

South Vietnamese immigration to the U.S. began right after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and more Vietnamese people have been arriving ever since. Today, over half of all Vietnamese-Americans live in either California or Texas.

4. Arabic

Estimated number of speakers nationally: 1,260,000

Number of states where it’s the most common: 2

States that most commonly speak the language: Michigan and Tennessee

Michigan alone has over 140,000 Arabic speakers. California has over 190,000 speakers. Pew Research Center noted that Arabic is the fastest-growing language in the U.S., with speakers growing by 29% from 2010 to 2014.

5. French

Estimated number of speakers nationally: 1,172,000

Number of states where it’s the most common: 4

States that most commonly speak the language: Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

After the Louisiana Purchase, French evolved from its original form, creating Louisiana French which also borrows words from English, Spanish, Native American, and African languages. To this day, it’s still spoken by around 175,000 people in Louisiana and Texas.

The United States: A Multilingual Country

Although English, in all its diversity, is unquestionably the country’s dominant national language, the U.S. has always had a complex multilingual history. Long before European settlers colonized North and South America, thousands of indigenous languages thrived from coast to coast. Today, some Indigenous languages are making a comeback as many states acknowledge their importance in the history and culture of the country.

With each new wave of immigrants residing in the country from every part of the globe, the linguistic and cultural diversity of the United States is growing.

The U.S. has one of the largest Chinese populations outside China, a demographic shift that may increase in the coming years. Spanish is now the most popular second language of the country.

America is home to the largest population of English speakers in the world, but bilingualism has been on the rise in the country for decades – a trend that shows no signs of letting up.

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