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Education and the Age Profile of Literacy into Adulthood

Author

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  • Elizabeth Cascio
  • Damon Clark
  • Nora Gordon

Abstract

American teenagers perform considerably worse on international assessments of achievement than do teenagers in other high-income countries. This observation has been a source of great concern since the first international tests were administered in the 1960s. But does this skill gap persist into adulthood? We examine this question using the first international assessment of adult literacy, conducted in the 1990s. We find that, consistent with other assessments of the school-age population, U.S. teenagers perform relatively poorly, ranking behind teenagers in the twelve other rich countries surveyed. However, by their late twenties, Americans compare much more favorably to their counterparts abroad: U.S. adults aged 26-30 assessed at the same time using the same test ranked seventh in the same group of countries, and the gap with countries still ahead was much diminished. The historical advantage that the United States has enjoyed in college graduation appears to be an important reason why, between the teen years and the late twenties, American literacy rates appear to catch up with those in other high-income countries. The educational systems of countries with high university graduation rates appear to share two features: comprehensive secondary schools -- in which all students have the option of taking courses to prepare for university -- and a highly accessible university sector. For most of the twentieth century, the United States led the developed world in participation and completion of higher education. In recent years, however, other high-income countries -- many of which established comprehensive secondary schooling in decades prior -- have substantially expanded access to university education. These changes should have striking consequences for the distribution of skill across countries in the years to come.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth Cascio & Damon Clark & Nora Gordon, 2008. "Education and the Age Profile of Literacy into Adulthood," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(3), pages 47-70, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:22:y:2008:i:3:p:47-70
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.3.47
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.22.3.47
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. On adult literacy in the United States
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2008-10-15 04:32:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Elizabeth Cascio, 2008. "Can young Americans compete in a global economy?," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue jul18.
    2. Richard Desjardins & Arne Jonas Warnke, 2012. "Ageing and Skills: A Review and Analysis of Skill Gain and Skill Loss Over the Lifespan and Over Time," OECD Education Working Papers 72, OECD Publishing.
    3. Hanushek, Eric A. & Woessmann, Ludger, 2011. "The Economics of International Differences in Educational Achievement," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
    4. Brunello, Giorgio & Fabbri, Daniele & Fort, Margherita, 2009. "Years of Schooling, Human Capital and the Body Mass Index of European Females," IZA Discussion Papers 4667, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Brunori, Paolo & Peragine, Vito & Serlenga, Laura, 2012. "Fairness in education: The Italian university before and after the reform," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 764-777.
    6. Doms, Mark & Lewis, Ethan & Robb, Alicia, 2010. "Local labor force education, new business characteristics, and firm performance," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 61-77, January.
    7. Charles T. Clotfelter, 2010. "Introduction to "American Universities in a Global Market"," NBER Chapters,in: American Universities in a Global Market, pages 1-29 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Brunello, Giorgio & Fort, Margherita & Weber, Guglielmo & Weiss, Christoph T., 2013. "Testing the Internal Validity of Compulsory School Reforms as Instrument for Years of Schooling," IZA Discussion Papers 7533, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. repec:aea:aejapp:v:9:y:2017:i:3:p:124-51 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Scott Carrell & Bruce Sacerdote, 2017. "Why Do College-Going Interventions Work?," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 124-151, July.
    11. Silva, André C., 2010. "Managerial ability and capital flows," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(1), pages 126-136, September.
    12. Arusha Cooray (University of Wollongong), "undated". "Does Colonialism Exert a Long Term Economic Impact on Adult Literacy?," QEH Working Papers qehwps176, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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