The Cost of Illiteracy

Countries across the world are booking losses for Illiteracy

Published: May 4, 2012 06:03:25 AM IST
Updated: May 4, 2012 11:37:31 AM IST
The Cost of Illiteracy
Image: Sameer Pawar

One in five people across the globe cannot read or write. This costs the global economy $1.19 trillion each year. Here’s a look at what countries across the world are paying

$53.56 Billion
Female literacy level is low. Illiterate women are often uneducated about methods of contraception and this locks them in a cycle of unwanted pregnancies.

$135.6 Billion
While there are more than 50 distinct languages within China, Mandarin—along with English—is the language of education as it is spoken by the Han, the most dominant ethnicity. So, along with the high cost of illiteracy, China also has to worry about the loss of cultural identity of minority ethnic groups as none of their languages can be used in official settings.

$300.80 Billion
Almost 85 percent of the people in US prisons are illiterate. This accounts for the high cost incurred by the US towards illiteracy as the government pays prison welfare costs as well as provides social aid to the unemployed, who are very often illiterate.

$127 Billion
It is estimated that six to eight million adults in the UK are illiterate and a bulk of welfare money (£23.3 billion) goes towards people who struggle with
reading or writing.


$27.41 Billion
Its famous scheme Bolsa Familia is a cash transfer scheme to help children stay in school. Through this scheme, introduced in 2003, the Brazilian government has removed three million people out of extreme poverty.* This has since been replicated in several other countries.

473.80 Million
Extreme poverty causes most children to drop out of school and they get into child labour, trafficking or prostitution.

*International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (UNDP)
Source: The Economic & Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in the Global Context from World Literacy Foundation

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(This story appears in the 11 May, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Praful Talera

    Illiteracy is the scourge of modern civilization. The earlier we get rid of it, the better off human beings will be.

    on May 5, 2012
  • Shobhit

    Thanks to you guys... Isse phele to yahi lagta tha ke sirf womens illetracy problem sirf india me hi hai but hum se bhi upper kai log hain. Well jokes apart its a matter of worry ke aaj bhi dunia me itne logo ko apna naam tak likhna ya padna nahin aata

    on May 5, 2012
  • Bryan Maddox

    Is this article a test of our critical literacy abilities? † While it can be argued that that illiteracy 'costs the economy', its really significant costs are to people's †lives. That's why it is such a denial of human rights and social justice. The statistics quoted in this article are merely speculative projections. The costs of illiteracy to economies will vary dependent on the role of literacy within each country and the kinds of literacy involved. The facts about global illiteracy presented by the 'World Literacy Foundation' were much criticised recently by the channel 4 fact check blog on 30th March.

    on May 5, 2012