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:
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%)
Literacy rates: 🇽🇰 Kosovo (92%)
Literacy rates: 🇦🇫 Afghanistan (38%), 🇵🇰 Pakistan (56%), 🇧🇩 Bangladesh (61%), 🇾🇪 Yemen (70%)
Literacy rates: 🇳🇪 Niger (19%), 🇬🇳 Guinea (30%), 🇸🇸 South Sudan (32%), 🇲🇱 Mali (33%), 🇨🇫 Central African Republic (37%), 🇸🇴 Somalia (38%), 🇧🇯 Benin (38%)
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.
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.
Countries with the Highest (and Lowest) Proportion of Immigrants
Here, we highlight countries that are magnets for immigration, such as UAE and Qatar, as well as nations with very few foreign born residents.
Countries with the Highest Proportion of Immigrants
For people living in cosmopolitan urban centers, it’s easy to overestimate the prevalence of immigrants around the world.
The median proportion of foreign-born people in all countries is just over 5%. In countries with a population greater than one million, only four are majority foreign-born, and only eight surpass the one-third mark.
Here are the top 20 countries with the highest proportion of immigrants in their populations:
|Country||Immigrants as a percentage of population|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||88%|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||39%|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||29%|
Source: UN via World Population Review. Note: Only countries with a population of greater than one million are included.
The United Arab Emirates comes out on top for the highest proportion of immigrants in its population. Impressively, the small Middle Eastern nation ranks sixth in the world for total immigrant population (8.7 million people).
Other countries on the Arabian Peninsula also rank at the top of this list. In Qatar, current host of the 2022 World Cup, 3-in-4 people are immigrants. The high proportion of foreign workers in the country also results in an extreme demographic skew—approximately 75% of the population of Qatar is male.
The one extreme outlier in the region is war-torn Yemen, where only 1.3% of the population are immigrants.
Outside the Middle East, Singapore (43%) takes top spot, followed by Australia (30%).
Spotlight on U.S. Immigration
Although the United States is outside the top 20, it still has by far the most immigrants of any other country (50 million vs. 16 million in second-place Germany).
About 15% of people in the U.S. are immigrants—numbers which are comparable to the historic high in the late 19th century. The proportion of foreign-born people in the country has been on the rise since the 1970s, and is projected to continue rising in coming decades. Around 2030, immigration is expected to surpass natural increases as a driver of population growth.
Countries with the Lowest Proportion of Immigrants
A few countries are magnets for immigration, while a great many more receive very little immigration. This can simply be due to lack of demand, or because of more extreme circumstances such as war or a failing economy. In other cases, immigration policies may limit the number of people who can migrate to a country.
Here are the top 20 countries with the lowest proportion of immigrants in their populations:
|Country||Immigrants as a percentage of population|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||0.19%|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||0.19%|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||0.35%|
Cuba has the lowest level of foreign-born people in its population. The Caribbean nation makes it very difficult for foreign nationals obtain permanent residency.
China comes in second last. In absolute terms, the million or so immigrants living in China may sound like a lot, but pales in comparison to the overall population of 1.4 billion.
Interestingly, Japan–which is the poster child for low immigration–isn’t on the list above. The country’s foreign-born population sits at just over 2%.
Ranked: Gen Z’s Favorite Brands, Compared with Older Generations
Which brands win the most with Gen Z compared to older generations? From TikTok to Capri Sun, this ranking looks at Gen Z’s favorite brands.
Gen Z’s Favorite Brands, Compared with Older Generations
Generation Z’s favorite brands, in absolute terms, aren’t wildly different from preferences of other generations, with Walmart, Google, and Netflix ranking high. But when it comes to the brands that do the best with Gen Z compared to their elders, the list shakes up dramatically.
This ranking uses consumer preference data from Morning Consult to show which brands are favored considerably more by Gen Z when compared to the general public. A brand’s rank is determined by the difference in favorability between Gen Z’s survey responses and the average of all U.S. adult respondents.
Note: Gen Z is the generation born between 1997-2012. Favorability in this ranking is measured using the share of a generation who said they have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable opinion of said brand.
Brands Preferred by Gen Z
Compared to Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers, who may not care as much for these 20 brands, Gen Z—currently between 9-25 years old—loves them. Let’s dive in:
|Rank||Brand||Favorability Difference||U.S. Adult Favorability||Gen Z Favorability|
Note: Differences may not add up exactly due to rounding.
Unsurprisingly, TikTok takes the top spot. The app that is frequently used to poke fun at older generations and that in many ways is a reflection of Gen Z culture, is 30 points more favorable with the young generation than others.
Members of Gen Z are the first true “digital natives”—meaning they were raised in the age of digital technology. As a result, many of their favorite brands are either some kind of social media platform and/or digital service, like Apple Pay, Snapchat, or Spotify. In fact, eight of Gen Z’s top 10 favorites on the above list are digital brands.
Another distinguishing feature of consumers in this generation is that they’re more likely to care about brand ethics and sustainable consumption than other generations.
However, one brand among their top 20 that defies that sentiment is the Chinese clothing company, Shein. This fast fashion company’s model promotes a culture of mass clothing hauls and thus, clothing waste—making it far from environmentally conscious. Shein has also come under fire recently for violating labor laws in its Chinese production facilities. And yet 44% of Gen Zs have a good impression of the brand, and it particularly does well with Gen Z women.
Interestingly, members of Gen Z in the U.S. are also the first cohort to have strong awareness of Chinese brands more generally.
Gen Z vs. Millennials
Two generations that are often lumped together, Gen Z and Millennials have some considerable differences when it comes to their favorite brands. Here’s a brief look at some of the brands that do better with Gen Z compared to Millennials specifically, using favorability difference:
- TikTok: 14.2
- Crocs: 13.4
- Pixar: 8.1
- Morphe: 6.1
Compared to their generational neighbors, one interesting standout is Crocs—the utilitarian, but highly-customizable foam clogs—which almost 60% of Gen Zs see as favorable compared to only 46% of Millennials.
Gen Z’s Favorite Brands Overall
While Gen Z differentiates itself from the older generations in many ways, a lot of the overall favorites still align with everyone else’s.
Removing the favorability difference score reveals that many of the most popular brands overall still win out, such as Netflix, Google, and Amazon.
Gen Z Trends
Overall, the report found that it’s hard for brands to win with Gen Z. Across all brands that were scored, 33% of the general American public rated them as favorable, but for Gen Z respondents the number dropped to 27%.
In general, Gen Z tends to value conscious consumption and subsequently, brands that can meet those expectations. Digital services and products also do well with this generation that has never known a world without internet.
As more and more Gen Zers enter the labor market and grow their consumer power, they will be an important generation to watch.
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