A Closer Look

Low literacy skills disproportionally hurt women

Appropriate literacy levels are crucial for both men and women seeking education and employment opportunities, but low literacy skills disproportionally hurt women’s chances of earning a sustaining wage. IWPR analysis of National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) data reveals that men earn more than women regardless of literacy level. Women with low literacy skills report very low earnings overall and substantially lower earnings than those among comparable men (Figure 1). Although women with higher literacy skills are much more likely than women with low literacy to earn sustaining wages, their earnings are still lower on average than those of men. In other words, women need higher levels of literacy than men to earn wages that are comparable with men’s.




Limited literacy remains a significant issue for both men and women in the United States: 36.4 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women are in the low literacy category (Figure 3). These data indicate that programs that work to improve literacy remain critical. Adult basic education, remedial and bridge programs, and other methods that help people move beyond low literacy are important for national workforce readiness, as well as for individuals’ ability to get and keep jobs that pay sustaining wages.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor from

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One thought on “Low literacy skills disproportionally hurt women

  1. My guess is that if low-literacy women wanted to earn as much as a low-literacy man, they should take the low-literacy jobs that men are working (construction, manual labor, etc) in order to earn as much.

    I see that you paid lip-service to the fact that there are more illiterate men than women, so good job on that. But your data goes to show that even illiteracy shouldn’t stop you from earning money. This goes back to the de-bunking of the gender wage gap – perhaps it’s not that they can’t read, it’s that the choices they’re making are directly causing them to earn less money.

    It’s not “male privilege” to do grueling physical labor for decent money. It’s female privilege to expect decent money for not having the basic skills that employers in non-manual labor industries look for. I suppose the analogy would be that women should start selling their bodies, too. Except, again, the female version is much cushier job.

    Posted by Mr. A | January 16, 2013, 12:51 pm

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