The Effect of Urbanization on Literacy Rates

Literacy rates within a country or region depend on many different factors. One of the biggest determinants is whether one lives in an urban or rural environment. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization did research on this phenomenon.

Rural residents have lower literacy levels than urban residents, whether measured from census data (e.g. Wagner, 2000) or from household data. The disparities between urban and rural populations tend to be greater in those poorer countries in which overall literacy rates are comparatively low. In large measure, the influence of urbanization on literacy acquisition and retention reflect differences in access to formal schooling, higher-quality education, and non-formal education programs.

Urban residents, in contrast to rural residents, tend also to reside in more literate environments, which are more demanding of literacy skills in written languages, and which offer greater rewards to those who possess them. Regional or provincial differences in literacy are particularly prevalent in countries with large illiterate populations. For example, census figures for Pakistan report an adult literacy rate of 72% in urban areas (e.g. the Islamabad Capital Territory), as compared with 44% in rural areas such as Baluchistan and Sindh (Choudhry, 2005). This rural/urban ratio of 0.61, while relatively low, has nearly doubled since 1972, when it stood at just 0.34. In Ethiopia, regional disparities in literacy rates range from 83% in the Addis Ababa region to 25% in the Amhara region. The overall literacy rate in rural Ethiopia is estimated at 23%, only one-third of the urban rate of 74% (Shenkut, 2005). In Morocco, rural–urban literacy disparities are extensive and compounded by gender.

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