Highlights from the 1994-1998 IALS Survey
The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) measured proficiency on three scales: prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. IALS data revealed the following regarding adult literacy in the mid-1990s:
Performance by literacy levels
- Between 19 and 23 percent of U.S. adults performed at levels 4 and 5 in 1994, the highest levels, on the three literacy scales (Figure 1). Between 21 and 24 percent of U.S. adults performed at level 1 in 1994, the lowest level, on the three literacy scales (Figure 1).
- Nearly one-third of U.S. adults demonstrated level 3 skills in 1994, the middle level of proficiency, across all three scales, while approximately one-fourth of U.S. adults demonstrated level 2 skills across the three scales (Figure 1).
- Sweden had higher percentages of their adults at level 4/5 on all three scales compared to all other participating countries and regions in the mid-1990s (Figure 2).
- Comparison of the distribution levels between the United States and Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom reveals that the United States had a greater percentage of people at level 1 compared to Canada in the mid-1990s in the three literacy scales. The other two countries did not differ in the percentage of the population at level 1. At level 4/5, the United States had a greater percentage of people than the United Kingdom on the prose scale; a lesser percentage of people than Canada on the document scale; and a greater percentage of people than both New Zealand and the United Kingdom on the quantitative scale (Figure 3).
Performance by average scores
- Based on average score on the prose scale, the United States: was outperformed by four countries or regions in the mid-1990s (Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Netherlands); performed similarly to six countries or regions (Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Australia and Belgium); and outperformed 11 countries or regions (Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Ireland, French-speaking Switzerland, Italian-speaking Switzerland, German-speaking Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Portugal and Chile) (Figure 4).
- Based on average score on the document scale, the United States: was outperformed by 11 countries or regions in the mid-1990s (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, Belgium, French-speaking Switzerland, and Australia); performed similarly to four countries or regions (United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italian-speaking Switzerland, and German-speaking Switzerland) and outperformed six countries or regions (Ireland, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Portugal and Chile) (Figure 5).
- Based on average score on the quantitative scale, the United States: was outperformed by eight countries or regions in the mid-1990s (Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, and French-speaking Switzerland); performed similarly to five countries or regions (Belgium, Canada, German-speaking Switzerland, Italian-speaking Switzerland and Australia); and outperformed eight countries or regions (New Zealand, Hungary, United Kingdom, Ireland, Slovenia, Poland, Portugal and Chile) (Figure 6).
Employment status by literacy level
- In terms of literacy skills and employment status, 59 percent of U.S. adults at level 1 on the document literacy scale were employed in 1994. The percentage of employed adults at level 2 (71 percent) was not significantly different from the percentage at level 1. However, the percentage of employed adults at levels 3 (77 percent) and 4/5 (82 percent) were higher than at level 1 (Figure 7).