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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



On the relationship between functional illiteracy and poverty

Posted by Gáby VAN VUGT

In the Netherlands, 1.3 million people are functionally illiterate: a vulnerable group with a relatively low income. The international literature shows that poverty and functional illiteracy can mutually influence and reinforce each other in various ways. Is there a similar relationship in the Netherlands? This report offers insight into this question.

In this report, we describe differences between those who are functionally illiterate and those who are literate, and we provide facts and figures on household and individual income. We describe characteristics of the functionally illiterate and map out how functional illiteracy is connected to income, as well as to a number of immaterial outcomes. We also show how these relationships are influenced by one's living environment.

The study shows that functionally illiterate people, on average, have a considerably lower income than those who are literate. This is not only the case for individual income, but for household income as well. Among the functionally illiterate, 19% has to make do with an income below the poverty line for at least one year. Furthermore, 6% of functionally illiterate people live in long-term poverty. This percentage is more than twice as high for the functionally illiterate as it is for the literate. That means the chance of poverty is higher for the functionally illiterate than it is for the literate. This – albeit modest – relationship is significant, even if we take into account such factors as gender, ethnicity, age, employment status and the socio-economic status of the neighbourhood. Based on the PIAAC sample survey, we can estimate that the number of poor functionally illiterate people is about 236 thousand.

The functionally illiterate do not have a significantly higher chance of being unemployed, although they do have jobs with a lower average status than literate people.
Functionally illiterate people are inactive more frequently, in the sense that they are more often outside the labour market and do not go to school or take courses, than those who are not functionally illiterate. Furthermore, the functionally illiterate are more than three times as likely to be dependent on benefits as those who are literate.



Finally, the study shows that functional illiteracy also influences social inclusion and other immaterial outcomes. Functionally illiterate people, for instance, report that they do less volunteer work. They have lower social trust, experience lower political trust and are less healthy than those who are literate. They are also more likely to live in neighbourhoods with a lower social status.

This study was commissioned by the Reading & Writing Foundation

Resource Author(s): 
Ingrid Christoffels, Pieter Baay | ECBO
Ineke Bijlsma, Mark Levels | ROA
Publication Date:
Wednesday, 1 June, 2016
Language of the document:
Type of resource: 
Studies and Reports