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Indicators of Well-being in Canada


Learning - Adult Literacy

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In our increasingly information-driven society, information comes from many different sources and can be presented in simple or in complex ways. Literacy - the ability to understand and then use information - is a fundamental skill. It is essential not only for participating fully at work, but for everyday life as well (e.g., for choosing products when grocery shopping). With a more literate workforce, Canada is also better able to compete in the global economy.

The adult literacy indicator measures the proportion of the Canadian population 16 years of age and older that is able to understand and use printed information, such as news stories or instruction manuals. In other words, this indicator measures their level of prose literacy.

Adult literacy is measured on a scale from one to five. Level 1 is the lowest level and Level 4/5 is the most advanced level. A person should have at least Level 3 literacy to function well in Canadian society.

(See also Adult Numeracy.)

Summary

  • National Picture — About 52% of Canadians 16 years of age and older had literacy scores of Level 3 or above in 2003.
  • Age — In 2003, the proportion of individuals with scores at or above Level 3 was highest for individuals aged 26 to 35.
  • Aboriginal People — For all regions where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal literacy levels were compared in 2003, the proportion of Aboriginal people with literacy scores at or above Level 3 was consistently lower than the proportion for non-Aboriginal people.
  • Language Groups — In 2003, the proportion of Anglophones with Level 3 literacy or above was higher than the proportions for both Francophones and minority language groups.
  • Regions — Yukon had the greatest percentage of individuals with literacy levels at Level 3 or above (67%) in 2003.

National Picture

In 2003, 52% of Canadians aged 16 years of age and over had literacy scores in the Level 3 category or above. Level 3 is generally considered to be the minimum level of literacy required to function well at work and in daily living. This means that nearly half of Canadians had low levels of literacy.

When broken down by literacy levels, the highest proportion of Canadians had literacy scores in the Level 3 category (35%); the next highest proportion had Level 2 literacy scores (28%).

Comparing the results of the 1994 and 2003 literacy surveys, there was little change overall. The proportions of Canadians at each level of literacy remained about the same.

This Chart contains data for Literacy levels, Canada, 1994 and 2003. Information is available in table below Level 4/5 (2003) = 17 Level 4/5 (1994) = 20 Level 3 (2003) = 35 Level 3 (1994) = 34 Level 2 (2003) = 28 Level 2 (1994) = 25 Level 1 (2003) = 20 Level 1 (1994) = 22 (percent) Literacy levels, Canada, 1994 and 2003

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Table 1.5).


Warning: This data table may contain very wide content. Horizontal scrolling may be necessary.

Literacy levels, Canada, 1994 and 2003 (percent)
Level 1Level 2Level 3Level 4/5
199422253420
200320283517

Overall, literacy levels increased with education levels. The proportion of individuals in Canada with literacy scores of Level 3 or above increased with the individuals' level of education. For the Canadian population with any post-secondary education, the percentage of individuals with literacy scores of Level 3 or higher exceeded the national average. More than three-quarters (78%) of individuals who reported university as their highest level of education had literacy levels of 3 or greater.

The biggest shift in the proportion of people with Level 3 literacy or above was observed between those who had completed high school and those with less than a high school education. Whereas 52% of those who had completed high school had scores in the Level 3 category or above, only 22% of individuals who had not completed high school had scores of at least Level 3.


This Chart contains data for Level 3 literacy or above, by level of education, 2003. Information is available in table below University = 78 Non-university post-secondary = 65 Trade-vocational = 60 High school = 52 High school not completed = 22 All levels = 52 (percent) Level 3 literacy or above, by level of education, 2003

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Table 2.9).


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Level 3 literacy or above, by level of education, 2003 (percent)
All levelsHigh school not completedHigh schoolTrade-vocationalNon-university post-secondaryUniversity
522252606578

Age

The two youngest age groups demonstrated the highest literacy levels in 2003. Those aged 26 to 35 had the largest proportion of individuals with a literacy level of 3 or above (66%),and those aged 16 to 25 reached 62%. Proportions were lower for each of the older age groups, reaching a low of 18% for the group of Canadians 66 years of age and older.

This Chart contains data for Level 3 literacy or above, by age, 2003. Information is available in table below 66+ years = 18 56-65 years = 42 46-55 years = 56 36-45 years = 59 26-35 years = 66 16-25 years = 62 (percent) Level 3 literacy or above, by age, 2003

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Table 2.9).


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Level 3 literacy or above, by age, 2003 (percent)
16-25 years26-35 years36-45 years46-55 years56-65 years66+ years
626659564218

Aboriginal People

Literacy scores were generally lower for Aboriginal populations than for non-Aboriginal populations. Of the three territories, Yukon's Aboriginal population had the highest literacy scores, with 45% scoring of Level 3 or above as compared with 71% of non-Aboriginal people.

Disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations were less marked for the two urban Aboriginal populations than for the populations in the territories. In Manitoba, 39% of Aboriginal people in urban areas had literacy levels of 3 or above, compared with 55% of non-Aboriginal people living in the province; these proportions were similar to those in Saskatchewan.  

The Aboriginal populations of all the regions examined fell below the Canadian average for literacy levels of 3 or above. Nunavut, where over 60% of population reported an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue and more than half reported using an Aboriginal language a daily basis, had the lowest proportion of Aboriginal people with literacy scores at or above Level 3, at 12%. Non-Aboriginal populations in the territories scored particularly high, however, with 70% or more of the non-Aboriginal population having literacy scores in the Level 3 category or higher.


This Chart contains data for Level 3 literacy or above, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations, selected regions, 2003. Information is available in table below NU (Non-Aboriginal) = 72 NU (Aboriginal) = 12 NT (Non-Aboriginal) = 70 NT (Aboriginal) = 31 YT (Non-Aboriginal) = 71 YT (Aboriginal) = 45 SK (Non-Aboriginal) = 61 SK (Aboriginal) = 37 MB (Non-Aboriginal) = 55 MB (Aboriginal) = 39 (percent) Level 3 literacy or above, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations, selected regions, 2003

Note: 1) The International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) does not test literacy ability for mother tongues other than English and French. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly for the Territories (e.g., over 60% of respondents in Nunavut reported Inuktitut as their mother tongue and over half of the population reported using the language on a daily basis). 2) Data for Aboriginal populations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are based on the survey of Aboriginal people living in urban areas. Data are not presented for Aboriginal people living in other provinces, and not for those living in rural or remote areas in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Tables 3.3 and 3.4).


Warning: This data table may contain very wide content. Horizontal scrolling may be necessary.

Level 3 literacy or above, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations, selected regions, 2003 (percent)
MBSKYTNTNU
Aboriginal3937453112
Non-Aboriginal5561717072

Language Groups

For individuals whose mother tongue is English (Anglophones), 62% in all of Canada, and 58% living in Quebec had literacy scores at Level 3 or above in 2003. This was a higher proportion than for Francophones: roughly 45% of those living in Quebec, and 42% of those living outside the province had literacy levels of 3 or above.

For individuals whose mother tongue was a language other than English or French and were 16 years of age and over, only 35% had scores in the Level 3 category or above. For example, immigrants tended to have fairly low levels of literacy, with 40% of those aged 16 to 65 having literacy levels of 3 or above, compared with 63% of individuals in the same age group who were Canadian-born.[1]


This Chart contains data for Level 3 literacy or above, by mother tongue, 2003. Information is available in table below Other = 35 French (outside Quebec) = 42 French = 45 English (within Quebec) = 58 English = 62 (percent) Level 3 literacy or above, by mother tongue, 2003

Note: Data for Francophones outside Quebec were collected in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba.

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Tables 3.1 and 3.19).


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Level 3 literacy or above, by mother tongue, 2003 (percent)
EnglishEnglish (within Quebec)FrenchFrench (outside Quebec)Other
6258454235

Regions

In 2003, performance at Level 3 literacy or above ranged from a low of 27% in Nunavut to a high of 67% in Yukon. In fact, Yukon fared well overall, with residents having literacy scores that were higher than the Canadian average, as well as the highest proportion of literacy scores in the Level 4/5 range. The Western provinces also fared well, with Saskatchewan (60%), Alberta (61%), and British Columbia (60%) having percentages for literacy performance above the national average.

More than half of the populations of Newfoundland and Labrador (55%), New Brunswick (56%), Quebec (55%), and Nunavut (73%) had literacy scores below Level 3. Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories had shares of the population with Level 3 literacy or above that were not statistically different from the Canadian average.

This Chart contains data for Level 3 literacy or above, by region, 2003. Information is available in table below NU = 27 NT = 55 YT = 67 BC = 60 AB = 61 SK = 60 MB = 54 ON = 52 QC = 45 NB = 44 NS = 55 PE = 51 NL = 45 CAN = 52 (percent) Level 3 literacy or above, by region, 2003

Note: The International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) does not test literacy ability for mother tongues other than English and French. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly for the Territories (e.g., over 60% of respondents in Nunavut reported Inuktitut as their mother tongue and over half of the population reported using the language on a daily basis).

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Table 1.2).


Warning: This data table may contain very wide content. Horizontal scrolling may be necessary.

Level 3 literacy or above, by region, 2003 (percent)
CANNLPENSNBQCONMBSKABBCYTNTNU
5245515544455254606160675527

Footnotes

  1. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003. Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2005 (Cat. No. 89-617-XIE, see Table 3.14).

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Date Modified:
2014-04-17