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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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Demographics

Visualizing Racial Diversity in America’s 10 Largest States

Here’s how racial diversity breaks down across the 10 largest U.S. states by population—from California to Michigan.

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Visualizing Racial Diversity in America’s 10 Largest States

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.

Over the last decade, America has become increasingly more diverse as demographic patterns shift across the population.

With over 39 million people, California is not only the most populous state, but one of the most diverse in the country.

This graphic shows the racial diversity of the 10 biggest states by population, based on data from the U.S. Census.

How Diverse Are America’s Most Populous States?

Here is the racial breakdown of the 10 largest U.S. states:

StateWhite (%)Black (%)Asian (%)Other (%)
California5661523
Texas6912514
Florida7216310
New York6215914
Pennsylvania791146
Illinois7014611
Ohio801225
Georgia573247
North Carolina682138
Michigan781436

As the table above shows, California has the highest proportion of Asian Americans across the top 10 states, comprising 15% of the population.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s ethnic makeup includes 32% of Black Americans, the highest across the most populous states. As diversity has risen over the last decade, it has significantly influenced politics at both the state and national level. The state voted Republican for every presidential election from 1996-2016, but flipped blue in 2020.

With 80% of the population being White Americans, Ohio has the highest share across the biggest states. While diversity has increased since 2010, it has been seen mostly in urban and suburban districts while diversity has stagnated in rural areas.

Overall, 24% of rural areas in the U.S. are made up of non-White Americans, rising by a median rate of 3.5% across counties since 2010. While this debunks the myth that “rural” is synonymous with “white”, racial diversity across rural areas falls below the national average of 42% of the population being people of color.

Beyond the top 10 states, ethnic diversity is the highest in Hawaii, Nevada, and Maryland.

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