Posted by: bluesyemre | March 1, 2022

Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World

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%

Showing 1 to 10 of 20 entries


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%

Showing 1 to 10 of 20 entries


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.

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