January 11, 2017

About one-fifth of adults globally have no formal schooling

In many parts of the world, particularly in poorer countries, attainment of even the most basic education is still far from universal. Indeed, roughly one-in-five adults (19%) around the globe have no formal schooling at all, according to a recent Pew Research Center report on education that also studied its relationship to religion.

While virtually all adults in Europe (98%) and English-speaking North America (99%) have at least some education, four-in-ten in the Middle East and North Africa (41%) and in sub-Saharan Africa (41%) have not completed even a year of primary school.

In the Asia-Pacific, the world’s most populous region, 22% of adults have no schooling. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, one-in-ten have no education. 

Women are more likely to have no schooling than men. Nearly a quarter (23%) of women are uneducated, compared with 14% of the world’s men. In the least educated parts of the world (Middle East-North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa) roughly half of adult women have not been to school for even a year.

In addition, older adults are more likely to have no education than younger ones. About a quarter of those who in 2010 were between the ages of 55 and 75 have no schooling. By contrast, among those who in 2010 were between the ages of 25 and 34, the share without education is 15%, a sign that more people are now going to school than four or five decades ago.

Among the young, there also is less of a gender gap. Among men and women between the ages of 55 and 75, 19% and 34% have no education, a 15% difference. But among those between the ages of 25 and 34, the gap between men with no schooling (12%) and women (19%) is only 7%.

In certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger), the share of those without education is roughly eight-in-ten or higher. The same is true for Yemen and Afghanistan. In Europe, 12% of all adults in Portugal and Spain have no schooling, the highest shares on the continent. And in the Western Hemisphere, the country with the highest share of uneducated adults is Haiti (54%).

Topics: Education, Educational Attainment, Europe, Gender, Generations and Age, Middle East and North Africa, North America, Protests and Uprisings, Religion and Society, Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous6 months ago

    Today most Iranians are highly educated, and official illiteracy rate is 6% .
    In Iran compared to US high school education is better, in US it is possible to get high school degree while you cannot read or write, but in Iran when you get a high school degree you are able to go to college anywhere in the world at least in US. With a US high school diploma you cannot enter Iranian universities. Unfortunately, things in this respect is getting worst for Iran.

  2. Anonymous6 months ago

    your data for Iran is questionable to say the least. On what planet is the Congolese populace better educated than that of Iran?