Inequality in Quality: Population Heterogeneity in Literacy Skills around the World

Claudia Reiter , University of Vienna

Education is a recognized source of demographic heterogeneity, with educational attainment, measuring the quantity of human capital, increasingly entering demographic analyses as an explicit dimension. However, the quality dimension of human capital, i.e. the skills people actually have, also matters greatly for many of the benefits of education and serves as an additional relevant source of demographic heterogeneity – but is still largely disregarded in demographic analyses. This research aims to accommodate this by incorporating a skills dimension into existing population distributions. Drawing on large-scale adult skills assessment surveys, I combine measures of literacy skills with population distributions by age, sex, and educational attainment for 45 countries. The resulting skills-adjusted education pyramids capture the “inequality in quality”, revealing considerable population heterogeneity in literacy skills between countries – with significant differences even within same age-, sex- and education-groups. This paper extends the literature on education as a demographic variable, stressing the need to additionally incorporate a skills dimension and providing empirical evidence for large heterogeneity in literacy skills among otherwise similar sub-populations. Pointing at gender, generational, and geographical gaps in skills-adjusted educational attainment, this research provides new insights into distributional aspects of human capital, with clear relevance for progress towards development goals.

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 Presented in Session 45. Skills development – opportunities and outcomes