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Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy



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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Ranked: European Countries by the Average Age Adults Move Out

The average age for adults to move out in the top seven countries—all from the same region—is either at or above 30.



A cropped chart ranking European countries by the average age at which people leave their parental homes, as sourced from Eurostat (2023)

Ranked: European Countries by the Average Age Adults Move Out

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Leaving home and setting off to build one’s own life is considered a key pillar of adulthood in many countries. It’s the proverbial mark at which societies deem a person fit and able to architect and maintain the trajectory of their own life.

However, not all cultures and family structures are the same. And sometimes economies can influence the ability to move out.

We rank the European countries by the average age at which people leave their parental homes, as sourced from Eurostat data, current up to 2023.

When Do Europeans Leave the Nest?

Balkan countries, and Southern Europe as a whole, likes to leave the parental nest a little later in life.

The average age for moving out in seven countries—all from the region—is either at or above 30.

CountryAverage Age Leaving
Home (2023)
🇭🇷 Croatia32
🇷🇸 Serbia*32
🇸🇰 Slovakia31
🇬🇷 Greece31
🇪🇸 Spain30
🇧🇬 Bulgaria30
🇮🇹 Italy30
🇵🇹 Portugal29
🇸🇮 Slovenia29
🇲🇹 Malta28
🇹🇷 Türkiye*28
🇮🇪 Ireland28
🇷🇴 Romania28
🇨🇾 Cyprus27
🇭🇺 Hungary27
🇵🇱 Poland27
🇱🇺 Luxembourg27
🇧🇪 Belgium26
🇱🇻 Latvia26
🇨🇿 Czechia25
🇦🇹 Austria25
🇱🇹 Lithuania24
🇩🇪 Germany24
🇫🇷 France24
🇳🇱 Netherlands23
🇪🇪 Estonia23
🇩🇰 Denmark22
🇸🇪 Sweden22
🇫🇮 Finland21
🇪🇺 EU26

*Data from 2022. Figures rounded. Ages unavailable for the UK, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo.

Cultural factors (strong family bonds) and economic pressures (high rents compared to lower local wages) combine to influence higher moving out age in the region.

Another interesting correlation is how the same countries tend to have higher home ownership rates (Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia all above 90%) indicating that renting is not a popular choice for residents.

Multigenerational families are also more common across the region, a holdover from a more agricultural-oriented society, stronger Church, and weaker welfare state and institutions.

On the other hand, in Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, the average age of moving out is in the 21 to 22 range. Similarly, their home ownership rates are much lower in comparison.

More European Insights From Visual Capitalist

If you liked this kind of content, check out The Top Export in Each EU Country for a national breakdown into the EU’s $6 trillion export list.

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