Interactive: Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World
Connect with us


Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World



Open the large interactive version here

Literacy gap

Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World

For many people around the world, the ability to read is an essential tool that’s needed for day-to-day life. Yet, despite its importance, approximately 773 million people across the globe do not have access to this basic, often life-saving skill. When it comes to literacy rates, which countries are leading the way, and which ones are lagging behind?

This graphic by Eleonora Nazander visualizes literacy rates in over 150+ countries and provides a breakdown of male versus female literacy rates in each country, using data from UNESCO.

Countries with The Highest Literacy Rates

From 1960 to 2015, global literacy has grown from 42% to 86%—an approximate 4% increase every five years.

While overall literacy rates have increased, some countries have seen more growth than others. Out of the countries included in the dataset, here’s a look at the countries with the highest literacy rates, according to the latest available figures:

CountryFemale Literacy RateMale Literacy Rate
🇺🇦 Ukraine100.0%100.0%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan100.0%100.0%
🇪🇪 Estonia99.9%99.9%
🇱🇻 Latvia99.9%99.9%
🇸🇲 San Marino99.9%99.9%
🇨🇺 Cuba99.8%99.7%
🇱🇹 Lithuania99.8%99.8%
🇷🇺 Russia99.7%99.7%
🇦🇲 Armenia99.7%99.8%
🇧🇾 Belarus99.7%99.8%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan99.7%99.8%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan99.7%99.8%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan99.7%99.9%
🇧🇧 Barbados99.6%99.6%
🇸🇮 Slovenia99.6%99.7%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan99.6%99.8%
🇹🇴 Tonga99.5%99.4%
🇵🇼 Palau99.5%99.5%
🇬🇪 Georgia99.5%99.7%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan99.5%99.7%

All countries on this list have nationwide literacy rates above 99%, with Ukraine and Uzbekistan both clocking in at 100%.

One country on this list that’s worth touching on is Cuba. The country’s high literacy rate of 99.8% is arguably the result of a campaign that dictator Fidel Castro launched in 1961, which aimed to abolish illiteracy in the country. In less than a year, more than 700,000 Cubans learned basic literary skills.

While Castro’s government imposed rigid censorship and is labeled by critics as an oppressive regime, this literacy campaign also likely influenced surrounding Latin American countries, leading to improved literacy rates in the region.

Countries with the Lowest Literacy Rates

On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the countries on the list with the lowest literacy rates. As the data shows, a staggering amount of the world’s illiterate population is in Sub-Saharan Africa:

CountryFemale Literacy RateMale Literacy Rate
🇹🇩 Chad14.0%38.9%
🇳🇪 Niger22.6%39.1%
🇸🇸 South Sudan28.9%40.3%
🇬🇳 Guinea22.0%43.6%
🇲🇱 Mali25.7%46.2%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso32.7%50.1%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic25.8%50.7%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone34.9%51.6%
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire40.5%53.7%
🇧🇯 Benin31.1%54.0%
🇦🇫 Afghanistan29.8%55.5%
🇮🇶 Iraq44.0%56.2%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia44.4%59.2%
🇬🇲 Gambia41.6%61.8%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau30.8%62.2%
🇱🇷 Liberia34.1%62.7%
🇲🇷 Mauritania43.4%63.7%
🇰🇲 Comoros53.0%64.6%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea57.9%65.3%
🇭🇹 Haiti58.3%65.3%

The country with the lowest literacy rate covered in this data is Chad, coming in at just 14.0% for female literacy and 38.9% for male literacy. This is due to a number of factors, one being poor access to education. In 2019, more than 700,000 children weren’t in school, and almost 500,000 of them were female.

However, it is worth noting that Chad’s youth population is much more literate than its senior population—over 30% of youth (aged 15-24) are literate, compared to just 7% of seniors (aged 65+) which shows how education has improved over the years—even if there’s still a long way to go.

Gender Disparities in Global Literacy

A broad target in the official list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to close the gender gap in education. And as the data shows, some regions are already meeting this target, with most countries in Central Asia, Europe, Northern America, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Latin America already at virtual gender parity for literacy.

That being said, countries in Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia are still showing significant disparities between genders. Here’s a look at the countries with the largest gender gaps in literacy:

CountryMale literacyFemale literacyGender Gap (p.p.)
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau62.2%30.8%31.4%
🇱🇷 Liberia62.7%34.1%28.6%
🇦🇴 Angola80.0%53.4%26.6%
🇹🇬 Togo77.3%51.2%26.1%
🇸🇳 Senegal66.3%40.4%25.9%
🇦🇫 Afghanistan55.5%29.8%25.7%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic50.7%25.8%24.9%
🇹🇩 Chad38.9%14.0%24.9%
🇵🇰 Pakistan71.1%46.5%24.6%
🇧🇯 Benin54.0%31.1%22.9%

Guinea-Bissau in West Africa has the greatest gender literacy gap, with a literacy rate for males that is 31.4 percentage points higher than females. One possible reason for the gap is the high instances of child marriage in the country—approximately 37% of women are married before they’re 18.

While various organizations have created programs to help girls in Guinea-Bissau stay in school, a gap of this size will likely take considerable time and effort to close.

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


Household Income Distribution in the U.S. Visualized as 100 Homes

This visual breaks down U.S. household income categories as 100 homes, based on the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.



Household Income Distribution in the U.S. Visualized as 100 Homes

Income inequality and wealth disparity have been frequent topics of conversation, even before the pandemic upended the economy.

Now, rising inflation and interest rates, and a possible recession on the horizon are bringing these societal divides into sharp focus.

In the above visualization, U.S. households are parsed out into a neighborhood of 100 homes and then grouped by income brackets, using recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Neighborhood Breakdown

American households vary widely on their respective incomes. The largest cluster of homes, representing nearly 20% of all American households, are in the $25-$49.9k income bracket.

Here’s a look at the share of households in each income bracket and the number of homes they represent.

Household IncomeShare of TotalNumber of Homes
Under $25K18.1%18
Over $200K10.3%10

In our hypothetical neighborhood, 18 of the households are in the lowest income bracket. People in this category have a wide variety of jobs, but personal care aides, cashiers, food and beverage positions are some of the most common. As a point of reference, the poverty line for a family of four currently sits at $26,496.

On the flip side, in this small community of 100 houses, 33 earn six figures and typically have at least one family member in a corporate or medical role.

The American Middle Class

The middle class in America has shrunk significantly in the past 50 years, going from 61% of adults being middle income in 1971 to 50% in 2021.

Here’s a look at the economic class breakdowns by annual household income, based on households with three people (Note: the average U.S. household has 2.6 people):

  • Upper class: >$156,000
  • Middle class:  $52,000-$156,000
  • Lower class: <$52,000

Although these definitions and conditions don’t align exactly with the buckets we use in the main houses visualization, they come pretty close.

In the neighborhood of 100 homes, 38 homes could be considered low income, while 18 are high income. Meanwhile, sitting in the $50-149.9k middle range of household income are 44 homes.

The Larger Trends

The pandemic had an extremely adverse impact on earnings and income worldwide, and the U.S. was no exception.

Median household income decreased 2.9% to $67.5k between 2019 and 2020, the first decrease since 2014. Additionally, the number of people who worked full-time jobs, year-round decreased by around 13.7 million.

That said, when looking at the longer-term trend, the median income for those considered middle class has jumped by 50% over the last five decades. Here’s a look at the median incomes in each economic class in 1970 vs. 2020:

 1970 Median Household Income (in 2020 $)2020 Median Household Income% Change
Low Income$20,604$29,96345%
Middle Income$59,934$90,13150%
Upper Income$130,008$219,57269%

With a recession⁠ highly likely to occur in the U.S., and rising inflation causing increases in the cost of basic, everyday goods, budgets may get tighter for many households in America, and incomes are likely to be impacted as well.

Continue Reading