Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy
Connect with us

Demographics

Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy

Published

on

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.

green check mark icon

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.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

Politics

Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

This chart plots polarization for various countries based on the Edelman Trust Institute’s annual survey of 32,000+ people.

Published

on

Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

How do you measure something that’s made headlines for half a decade but is still difficult to quantify? We’re talking about polarization.

Even within the social sciences, polarization covers everything from racial segregation, to labor skill levels, to class divide, to political ideology.

How Do You Quantify Polarization?

Edelman’s data on which countries are the most polarized comes from survey results asking respondents two very simple questions:

  • How divided is their country?
  • How entrenched is the divide?

The questions help bring to light the social issues a particular country is facing and the lack of consensus on those issues.

Plotted against each other, a chart emerges. A country in the top–right corner of the chart is “severely polarized.” Countries located closer to the lower–left are considered less polarized.

In the report, Edelman identifies four metrics to watch for and measure which help quantify polarization.

Economic AnxietiesWill my family be better off in five years?
Institutional ImbalanceGovernment is viewed as unethical and incompetent.
Class DividePeople with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.
Battle for TruthEcho chambers, and a low trust in media.

Following Edelman’s metrics, countries with economic uncertainty and inequality as well as institutional distrust are more likely to be polarized. Below, we look at key highlights from the chart.

Severely Polarized Countries

Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina is the most polarized country surveyed by a large margin. Foreign loan defaults, a high fiscal deficit, and now surging inflation have created a perfect storm in the country.

43% of the Argentinian respondents said they will be better off in five years, down 17 percentage points from last year.

Along with fiscal upheaval, Argentinians are also dealing with enduring corruption in the public sector and abrupt policy reversals between governments. Only 20% of those surveyed in Argentina said they trusted the government—the least of all surveyed countries.

Here are all six of the countries considered to be severely polarized:

    🇦🇷 Argentina
    🇨🇴 Colombia
    🇺🇸 United States
    🇿🇦 South Africa
    🇪🇸 Spain
    🇸🇪 Sweden

In the U.S., heightened political upheaval between Democrats and Republicans over the last few years has led to strengthening ideological stances and to an abundance of headlines about polarization. Only 42% of respondents in the country trust the government.

And in South Africa, persistent inequality and falling trust in the African National Congress also check off Edelman’s metrics. It’s also second after Argentina with the least trust in government (22%) per the survey.

Moderately Polarized Countries

The biggest cluster of 15 countries are in moderately polarized section of the chart, with all continents represented.

    🇧🇷 Brazil
    🇰🇷 South Korea
    🇲🇽 Mexico
    🇫🇷 France
    🇬🇧 United Kingdom
    🇯🇵 Japan
    🇳🇱 Netherlands
    🇮🇹 Italy
    🇩🇪 Germany
    🇳🇬 Nigeria
    🇹🇭 Thailand
    🇰🇪 Kenya
    🇨🇦 Canada
    🇦🇺 Australia
    🇮🇪 Ireland

Some are on the cusp of being severely polarized, including economic heavyweights like Japan, the UK, France, and Germany. On the other hand, smaller economies like Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria, are doing comparatively better on the polarization chart.

Less Polarized Countries

Countries with fair economic outlook and high trust in institutions including China, Singapore, and India are in the bottom left sector of the chart.

    🇮🇩 Indonesia
    🇨🇳 China
    🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
    🇸🇬 Singapore
    🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
    🇲🇾 Malaysia
    🇮🇳 India

It’s interesting to note that of the seven countries in that sector, three are not democracies. That said, there are also more developing countries on this list as well, which could also be a factor.

Looking Ahead

Edelman notes that polarization is both “cause and consequence of distrust,” creating a self-fulfilling cycle. Aside from the four metrics stated above, concerns about the erosion of civility and weakening social fabric also lead to polarization.

Edelman polarization quote

As global events unfold in 2023—including looming worries of a recession—it will be fascinating to see how countries might switch positions in the year to come.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer

Data note: Survey conducted: Nov 1 – Nov 28, 2022. Survey included 32,000+ respondents in 28 countries. Russia was omitted from this year’s survey. See page 2 of the report for more details.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular