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:
|Country||Female Literacy Rate||Male Literacy Rate|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||99.9%||99.9%|
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:
|Country||Female Literacy Rate||Male Literacy Rate|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||28.9%||40.3%|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||32.7%||50.1%|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||25.8%||50.7%|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||34.9%||51.6%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||40.5%||53.7%|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||57.9%||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:
|Country||Male literacy||Female literacy||Gender Gap (p.p.)|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||50.7%||25.8%||24.9%|
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.
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.
Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights Around the World
In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority, yet only 10 countries in the world offer full legal protections to women.
Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights in Each Country
In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority by eliminating job restrictions, working to reduce the gender wage gap, or changing legislation related to marriage and parenthood.
Still, many laws continue to inhibit women’s ability to enter the workforce or start a business—and even to travel outside their homes in the same way as men. In fact, on average globally, women have just three-quarters of the economic rights of men.
This map uses data from the Women, Business and Law 2021 report by the World Bank, to visualize women’s economic rights around the world.
According to the World Bank, only 10 countries offer full legal protections to women, and all of them are in the Northern Hemisphere.
In ranking countries, the institution considers indicators like equal remuneration, legal rights, and mobility. A score of 100 means that women are on equal legal standing with men across all areas measured.
|10||Hong Kong, China||89.4|
|14||São Tomé and Príncipe||86.3|
|16||Bosnia and Herzegovina||85.0|
|18||Puerto Rico (US)||83.8|
|20||United Arab Emirates||82.5|
|26||Congo, Dem. Rep.||78.8|
|29||Central African Republic||76.9|
|32||Trinidad and Tobago||75.0|
|37||St. Kitts and Nevis||71.3|
|41||St. Vicent and the Grenadines||68.1|
|44||Antigua and Barbuda||66.3|
|52||Papua New Guinea||60.0|
|76||West Bank and Gaza||26.3|
According to the report, there are 20 economies in the world where women still have half or fewer of the legal economic rights of men.
Under Taliban rule, for example, women in Afghanistan have limited access to education and work. In the Gaza Strip, women must have the permission of a male guardian to travel.
Yet, some differences are also seen in developed countries.
In the U.S, women still earn an average of about 82 cents for each dollar earned by men, and the gap across many countries in Europe is similar. Meanwhile, women are represented in just 23% of seats in national parliaments globally, and make up just 13% of agricultural landholders.
The Shadow Pandemic
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women, including barriers to attend school and maintain jobs, according to the United Nations.
In fact, new research shows that the sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic so far are those with high levels of women workers, including the restaurant and hospitality business, as well as the travel sector.
While leaders debate recovery in a post-pandemic world, rights equality remains a central topic for social and economic development.
Interactive Map: Tracking World Hunger and Food Insecurity
Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.
Interactive Map: Tracking World Hunger and Food Insecurity
Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.
Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.
But whereas acute hunger measures short-term inability to meet food consumption requirements, often related to crises, many people in the world also suffer from chronic hunger. This is the persistent inability to meet food consumption requirements, usually lasting for at least six months.
After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.
The Fight to Feed the World
The problem of world hunger isn’t new and attempts to solve it have made headlines for decades.
On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.
The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.
But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.
|Country||% Population Affected by Hunger||Population (millions)||Region|
|Burkina Faso 🇧🇫||61%||19.8||Africa|
|South Sudan 🇸🇸||60%||11.0||Africa|
|Sierra Leone 🇸🇱||55%||8.2||Africa|
|Syria 🇸🇾||55%||18.0||Middle East|
|Yemen 🇾🇪||44%||30.0||Middle East|
Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.
Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.
According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.
All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Solving World Hunger
While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.
Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.
But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.
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