ABS research: 46% of Australian adults aged 16-70 are illiterate.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics runs a survey called "Literacy and Life Skills". The research shows that an amazing 46% of adult Australians lack the literacy and numeracy to perform simple workplace skills.

Australian Bureau Of Statistics Research
In the graph below, taken from the ABS "Literacy and Life Skills" report, the population is divided into five "Bands", with Bands 1 & 2 considered not "have the literacy to cope with the increasing and complex demands of modern life and work.". This is the modern gauge of literacy - whether the adult has sufficient reading ability to perform everyday tasks, such as "read a bus timetable, use a tape measure, read the directions on a medicine bottle, or read a newspaper". In particular, the focus was on correct comprehension - not whether individual words can be read in isolation, but whether the adults could correctly answer questions about the meaning of a paragraph of text.

Together, Band 1 & 2 adults represent 46% of the Australian workforce. Click here to download from ABS.

Literacy levels by state

Other Research


The Courier Mail (June 11, 2012) reports that "Almost half of aspiring primary school teachers failed parts of a landmark test featuring literacy and numeracy questions that Year 7 students should be able to answer." The ABC (07 September 2012) reports that "47 percent of Queenslanders cannot read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables or understand instructions on a medicine bottle". Northern Territory. 30-40% of students at year 3, 5, 7 and 9 did not reach minimum national standards (Naplan) Only 20% of Aboriginal students achieved a suitable standard. (Koori Mail 385, p.60). Western Australia. The ABS reports (Adult Literacy in Western Australia 2006) that the proportion of Western Australians with competent literacy skills is about 55%.

New South Wales. 54% of adults achieved (in the ABS words) "the suitable literacy minimum for coping with the increasing and complex demands of modern life and work" (Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey 2006)

Victoria. In the same ABS study, "between 49% and 71% of adults in Victoria had poor or very poor literacy skills, meaning they did not have the literacy to cope with the increasing and complex demands of modern life and work."ck of literacy and numeracy