The Literacy Gap between Those with High Levels and Low Levels of Educational Attainment among Older Adults: A Comparative Study of 20 Countries


To assess the variation in literacy skills among older adults, particular the literacy gap between those with high levels of formal educational attainment and those with low levels of educational attainment.


In the aging society, literacy skills among older adults become increasingly relevant for their economic and health outcomes, which makes it important to examine the levels and distributions of literacy skills among old population. In this pilot study, I compare the distributions of literacy skills among aged 56-65 in the U.S. and 19 other countries that participated in the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). I focus on the crossnational variation in the literacy gap between those with high levels and those with low levels of education. The large literacy gap between those with different levels of educational attainment implies significant disadvantages of people with low levels of educational attainment who also suffer from low levels of literacy skills. Cross-national comparisons may shed some light on why some countries are more successful in maintaining narrower literacy gaps among older adults. In particular, features of educational systems and between-country differences in opportunities of the participation in adult education and training are discussed as potential factors. In order to better identify sources of the cross-national variation, I also examine how the specific degree of literacy gap among older adults is compared to the gap among younger adults within countries. By examining how literacy inequality by educational attainment evolves with age, I aim to extend knowledge on social inequality associated with aging. Regression models predicting each of prose, document, and quantitative literacy scores by education, age, post-schooling experiences and other individual-level variables are estimated for each country, separately.

Funded By: 
Funded By: 
Award Dates: 
July 1, 2006 - June 30, 2007
PARC Grant Year: 
Year 13