Global Health

Global Youth Literacy Rate is 90%+ and Rising

By Charles Li MD

Global youth literacy rates among boys and girls

While the media likes to sensationalize about all the things going wrong today, the world is generally getting better.

One of the most promising trends in the world today is the ever increasing literacy rates among our youth.

According to the World Bank, the global literacy rate among girls has increased from 70% in 1975 to 90% in 2017. (This likewise represents a 2/3rds reduction in the illiteracy rate among girls)

Among boys, the literacy rate has similarly increased from 85% to 93%.

The gender gap in literacy has also decreased dramatically, by a factor of five. In 1975, the literacy rate had a gender gap of 14%, today it is less than 3%.

Literacy is Essential to Health

We all know the importance of literacy for quality of life, getting a higher paying job, and improving a family’s socioeconomic status.

But, did you know that literacy is also associated with better health outcomes?

Multiple studies have looked at the link between literacy and health outcomes in the United States. It turns out that even after controlling for socioeconomic status, literacy does seem to literally help you live a longer, healthier life.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers studied whether literacy was a risk factor for hospitalization. Hospitalization rate was used as a measure of general health and well-being.

Researchers tested literacy with a reading comprehension quiz based upon health related passages, including reading instructions and labels. They then stratified patients into 3 groups: low literacy, marginal literacy, and adequate literacy.

They found that the literacy rate of the patient was directly correlated with the hospitalization rate, even after controlling for factors such as education, income, chromic diseases, and self-reported health status.

The Effect of Literacy on Mortality
Data on Literacy and Mortality

A second study found that literacy is associated with a lower risk of mortality.Those who had higher literacy had a lower risk of dying from any cause in any given year.

Researchers studied 2,512 elderly individuals in Memphis, TN and Pittsburgh, PA to see whether their reading level affected their mortality rate.

They found that individuals with a less than 8th grade reading level had a mortality rate around twice as high as those with a high school or better reading level.

As expected some of this difference was attributed to confounding variables such as income. However, even after controlling for socioeconomic factors, race, gender, and even health status, researchers still found a 75% increase in mortality risk in the individuals with a lower reading level.

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