Connotations of Literacy

One of the original goals of Life, Literacy, and The Pursuit of Happiness was to determine whether or not there are connections between literacy rates and a country’s success. While some may say that there is little to no link evident between literacy and success, there is a proven connection between level of education and a country’s development. This evidences that literacy and education positively affect a country in the social, political, and economic spheres.

The Literacy Foundation is dedicated to “supporting adults and children so they can develop their ability to read and write and participate fully in society.” Their website has a conclusive list of the consequences of illiteracy:

“The consequences of illiteracy are many and harmful in several respects. As well as affecting illiterate individuals themselves in their daily and future lives, this scourge has a significant effect on society, both socially and economically.

For Individuals:

  • Limited ability to obtain and understand essential information
  • Unemployment –> The unemployment rate is 2–4 times higher among those with little schooling than among those with Bachelor’s degrees.
  • Lower income
  • Lower-quality jobs
  • Reduced access to lifelong learning and professional development
  • Poverty
  • The value of education and reading is not conveyed to children, and this leads to intergenerational transmission of illiteracy
  • Low self-esteem, often leading to isolation
  • Impact on healthIlliterate individuals have more workplace accidents, take longer to recover and more often misuse medication through ignorance of health care resources and because they have trouble reading and understanding the relevant information (warnings, dosage, contraindications, etc.).

For society:

  • Literacy is an essential tool for individuals and states to be competitive in the new global knowledge economy
  • The higher the proportion of adults with low literacy proficiency is, the slower the overall long-term GDP growth rate is
  • The level of community involvement and civic participation is lower
  • Without the basic tools necessary for achieving their goals, individuals without an adequate level of literacy cannot be full-fledged members of society and cannot be involved fully and on a completely equal basis in social and political discourse.”


Each of these aspects highlight how being illiterate negatively affects not just an individual person and their life, but their entire community at large. Beyond just these effects of illiteracy, there are also scientific connotations between brain activity and literacy.

Michael Ridley highlights some of this scientific outlook when he writes about literacy’s effects on his website ‘Beyond Literacy.’ He states eloquently that “[l]iteracy is not simply a tool we use, something we pick up and then put down. It’s not like a really good hammer. It’s more like a drug. The acts of reading and writing create and reinforce certain neural connections. Our plastic brain is shaped by this. It optimizes itself to respond to the needs of literacy. We change ourselves to be literate and to remain literate.”

In America alone, literacy has a statistical economic impact.Illiteracy is widespread, a problem in every community, not limited to any race, region or socioeconomic class. According to the Washington County Literacy Council, “[a]dult illiteracy costs society an estimated $240 billion each year in lost industrial productivity, unrealized tax revenues, welfare, crime, poverty, and related social ills.” The website also states the clear connection between crime and illiteracy, saying “The rate of illiteracy in America’s correctional systems is over 60% (National Institutes of Health).”
In conclusion, literacy is fundamental because it ultimately impacts an individual’s ability to fully participate in society. It effects whether people understand important public issues and it provides the foundation that people need to build skills needed in the labour market.In order to succeed in today’s modern world, individuals need to be proficient in reading, mathematics, and science to understand and participate in economic and social life. If a population does not have strong literacy skills, they are at a disadvantage to meet the complex social challenges that it will face, such as issues in health, education, and social programs.

Literacy is essential, and it can be directly connected to a country’s overall success.

This video is a great explanation of how empowering literacy can be!




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