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Benchmarking the effective literacy rate


  • Lee, Travis


Several authors have identified an externality accruing to proximate illiterates, that is, illiterate people with access to a literate person. The standard literacy rate ignores this externality; measures of effective literacy are sensitive to it. Nearly all measures of effective literacy appearing in the literature are greater than or equal to R. In fact, the best known of these, the Basu-Foster measure , is strictly greater in virtually every case (see Basu and Foster [Basu, Kaushik, Foster, James, 1998. On measuring literacy. Economic Journal 108 (451), 1733-1749]). Although the inequality is an unintended consequence of their construction, it amounts to setting a benchmark for the effective literacy rate. This note examines Basu and Foster's framework and offers an alternative benchmark.

Suggested Citation

  • Lee, Travis, 2008. "Benchmarking the effective literacy rate," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 233-239, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:matsoc:v:56:y:2008:i:2:p:233-239

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Basu, Kaushik & Foster, James E, 1998. "On Measuring Literacy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(451), pages 1733-1749, November.
    2. Kaushik Basu & James E.Foster & S. Subramanian, 2000. "Isolated and Proximate Illiteracy And Why these Concepts Matter in Measuring Literacy and Designing Education Programmes," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0002, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    3. Subramanian, S., 2004. "Measuring literacy: some extensions of the Basu-Foster framework," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 453-463, February.
    4. Sen, Amartya, 1997. "On Economic Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198292975, June.
    5. Dutta, Indranil, 2004. "Generalized measures of literacy," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 69-80, July.
    6. Gibson, John, 2001. "Literacy and Intrahousehold Externalities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 155-166, January.
    7. Mitra, Tapan, 2002. "On Literacy Rankings," Working Papers 02-16, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
    8. Maddox, Bryan, 2007. "Worlds Apart? Ethnographic Reflections on "Effective Literacy" and Intrahousehold Externalities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 532-541, March.
    9. Basu, Kaushik & Narayan, Ambar & Ravallion, Martin, 2001. "Is literacy shared within households? Theory and evidence for Bangladesh," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(6), pages 649-665, December.
    10. Basu, Kaushik & Narayan, Ambar & Ravallion, Martin, 1999. "Is knowledge shared within households?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2261, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Iñaki Permanyer & Joan García & Albert Esteve, 2013. "The Impact of Educational Homogamy on Isolated Illiteracy Levels," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 50(6), pages 2209-2225, December.
    2. Sreenivasan Subramanian, 2011. "Inter-group Disparities in the Distributional Analysis of Human Development: Concepts, Measurement, and Illustrative Applications," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 27-52, March.
    3. Kaushik Basu & Travis Lee, 2009. "A new and easy-to-use measure of literacy, its axiomatic properties and an application," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(2), pages 181-196, February.

    More about this item


    I2 I3 O15 O2 Literacy Education Inequality Isolation;

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • O2 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy


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