Value and Volume of Literacy


  • John Bormuth


This study set out to determine the volume and monetary value of literacy and to trace their growth over the past generation. The literacy consumed was taken to be the information that people exchange via the written word, and the literacy production industry was seen as having three major components — one that produces materials, another that distributes them, and a third that teaches people to read and write. Various product counts were used to index the volume of output for each production component, and the time that people spend reading and writing was used to index the volume of literacy consumed. These unit counts were examined individually within each component, comparing them to population size to determine their growth during the period studied. Then dollar values were assigned to these unit measures, and a national literacy account was formed, first, to estimate the total monetary value of the nation’s literacy and, second, to estimate the net value of literacy and the benefit-cost ratio of the literacy program and to examine their trends. It was possible to infer from these data that a large and growing fraction of the population has reached a high and increasing level of literacy, that literacy has been worth many times what it cost to produce, that literacy is one of the nation’s most important economic activities, that personal and social investments in literacy have been rising, but that the nation has yet to reach the point where it would consider itself literate.






Journal Article