Literacy rate


The literacy rate is defined by the percentage of the population of a given age group that can read and write. The adult literacy rate corresponds to ages 15 and above, the youth literacy rate to ages 15 to 24, and the elderly to ages 65 and above. It is typically measured according to the ability to comprehend a short simple statement on everyday life. Generally, literacy also encompasses numeracy, and measurement may incorporate a simple assessment of arithmetic ability. The literacy rate and number of literates should be distinguished from functional literacy, a more comprehensive measure of literacy assessed on a continium in which multiple proficiency levels can be determined.

Data source

National population census; household and/or labour force surveys.

Source definition

UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Calculation method

Divide the number of literates of a given age range by the corresponding age group population and multiply the result by 100. Alternatively, apply the same method using the number of illiterates to derive the illiteracy rate; or by subtracting the literacy rate from 100%.

Data required

Population and number of literates (or illiterates) by age range.


A high literacy rate (or low illiteracy rate) suggests the existence of an effective primary education system and/or literacy programmes that have enabled a large proportion of the population to acquire the ability of using the written word (and making simple arithmetic calculations) in daily life and to continue learning. It is common practice to present and analyse literacy rates together with the absolute number of adult illiterates as improvements in literacy rates may sometimes be accompanied by increases in the illiterate population due to a changing demographic structure.


Some countries apply definitions and criteria for literacy which are different from the international standards, or equate persons with no schooling to illiterates, or change definitions between censuses. Some assessments of literacy may also rely on self-reporting, possibly reducing accuracy. In countries where nearly all individuals have completed basic education, the literacy rate provides limited information on the variance of literacy skills in the population.


To show the accumulated achievement of primary education and literacy programmes in imparting basic literacy skills to the population, thereby enabling them to apply such skills in daily life and to continue learning and communicating using the written word. Literacy represents a potential for further intellectual growth and contribution to economic-socio-cultural development of society.

Quality standards

To increase comparability, measures of adult literacy should align with the standard international definition. If possible, an assessment of functional literacy is preferred for comprehensiveness and relevancy.

Types of disaggregation

By sex, urban/rural location, and the following age groups: 15 and above; 15-24; 25-64; 65 and above.