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Low Literacy is not Set in Stone

Longitudinal Evidence on the Development of Low Literacy During Adulthood

Alexandra Wicht, Tabea Durda, Luise Krejcik, Cordula Artelt, Anke Grotlüschen, Beatrice Rammstedt und Clemens M. Lechner

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Alexandra Wicht, Tabea Durda, Luise Krejcik, Cordula Artelt, Anke Grotlüschen, Beatrice Rammstedt, Clemens M. Lechner, Low Literacy is not Set in Stone (19.06.2021), Beltz Juventa, 69469 Weinheim, ISSN: 0514-2717, 2021 #1, S.109

Getrackt seit 05/2018

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Beschreibung / Abstract

In most industrialized societies, around 10–​15% of adults are only able to read at basic levels, a phenomenon commonly termed ‘low literacy’. This study addresses two questions about the development of low literacy during adulthood: (1) How stable is low literacy in adults, that is, what share of adults experiences ascents from, or descents into, low literacy? (2) What risk and protective factors predict such ascents and descents, as well as changes in literacy within the subgroup of low-literate adults? We use large-scale data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), which provides repeated measures of adults’ literacy spanning up to six years. We identified low-literate adults based on a cut score derived using the bookmark method. We found that ascents from low literacy to higher literacy were more prevalent than descents from higher literacy to low literacy. Almost a third of low-literate adults ascended from low literacy to higher literacy after four to six years. Reading practices emerged as the most important protective factor against descents from higher literacy and predicted gains in literacy within the group of low-literate adults. Overall, our study suggests that low literacy is not an immutable condition in adulthood, but has the potential to change over an individual’s lifetime, meaning that gains in literacy over time are indeed possible among low-literate adults.

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