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Benchmarking the Effective Literacy Rate

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  • Lee, Travis

    (Cornell U)

Abstract

By now the importance of literacy in the process of development is widely accepted. However, unlike measuring welfare or inequality, the problem of literacy measurement remains largely unexamined. Alternatives to the standard literacy rate, R, equal to the number of literate adults as a percentage of the adult population, are not well known, but this measure has its deficiencies. In particular, several authors have identified the 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. The present note offers two effective literacy rates (measures) and a set of axioms characterizing each. 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 L*, is strictly greater in virtually every case (see Basu and Foster [1]). Although the inequality L* >= R is an unintended consequence of their construction, it amounts to setting a benchmark for the effective literacy rate. This notes examines Basu and Foster's framework and offers an alternative benchmark.

Suggested Citation

  • Lee, Travis, 2007. "Benchmarking the Effective Literacy Rate," Working Papers 07-13, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:corcae:07-13
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    References listed on IDEAS

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

    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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