Illiteracy and literacy



The consequences of illiteracy are many and harmful in several respects. As well as affecting illiterate individuals themselves in their daily and future lives, this scourge has a significant effect on society, both socially and economically.

The consequences of illiteracy on individuals and society include the following:

For individuals

  • Limited ability to obtain and understand essential information
  • Unemployment
    • The unemployment rate is 2–4 times higher among those with little schooling than among those with Bachelor’s degrees.
  • Lower income
  • Lower-quality jobs
  • Reduced access to lifelong learning and professional development
  • Poverty
  • The value of education and reading is not conveyed to children, and this leads to intergenerational transmission of illiteracy
  • Low self-esteem, often leading to isolation
  • Impact on health
    • Illiterate individuals have more workplace accidents, take longer to recover and more often misuse medication through ignorance of health care resources and because they have trouble reading and understanding the relevant information (warnings, dosage, contraindications, etc.).

For society

  • Literacy is an essential tool for individuals and states to be competitive in the new global knowledge economy
  • The higher the proportion of adults with low literacy proficiency is, the slower the overall long-term GDP growth rate is
  • The level of community involvement and civic participation is lower

Without the basic tools necessary for achieving their goals, individuals without an adequate level of literacy cannot be full-fledged members of society and cannot be involved fully and on a completely equal basis in social and political discourse.


Données sociales du Québec, édition 2009 (Social data on Quebec, 2009 edition), Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2009.

Green, David A. and W. Craig Riddell, Literacy and the Labour Market: The Generation of Literacy and Its Impact on Earnings for Native Born Canadians, International Adult Literacy Survey (collection), Catalogue No. 89-552-MWE, 2003, No. 18, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, 2007.

“Learning and Literacy: Canada’s Challenges,” Chapter 6 of State of Learning in Canada: No Time for Complacency, Section 6.3 “The literacy facts of life,” p. 88, Canadian Council on Learning, 2007.

Canadian Council on Learning, Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s future literacy needs, 2008.