The Longterm Effects of Illiteracy
by Sarah Forrest || 16 October 2018
When children struggle to read, it is unbelievably tough for them and their whole families. There is an undeniable psychological mark that can have negative impacts during early school years. Plus the knock-on effects of reading difficulties making subjects like math and science equally difficult, even if there is great natural aptitude for them.
The far-reaching effects are scary, once you dig into the facts and figures. They are what keep us churning away here at David Morgan Education, always searching to refine and improve so that no child has to leave school without basic literacy skills.
Overall public cost of illiteracy
The Every Child a Chance Trust found that the overall annual public cost of illiteracy to British society — analysing tax revenue loss, adult education cost, mental health funding, and the prison system (about half of prison inmates in most English-speaking countries are functionally illiterate.) –is between £198 million to £2.5 billion. And remember, that is every year.
Annual healthcare cost of poor literacy
The United States’ numbers are much higher of course due to the population size. A 2003 Department of Education report found that 40-50% of American adults have literacy levels low enough to significantly impact their lives.
One report, called the Low Health Literacy Report (George Washington University), targeted only data points relating to healthcare. If you can’t read a prescription, or doctor’s instructions, or test results… then your health directly suffers, but the cost of your medical care also increases. These costs are estimated to run at least $100 billion a year. And remember, that number does not include other public-sector costs (adult education classes/wage loss, etc.)
Wage loss effects of illiteracy
One study of low-literate 37 year olds in Britain found that over 20% of long-term unemployed males were functionally illiterate. And low literacy skills were found to be tied to the lowest wages in the entire workforce. If you think about it, every step of most jobs requires basic literacy: filling out a job application, spelling, reading directions from bosses, workplace safety notices…
Psychological effects of illiteracy
The same study above found a correlation between struggling with literacy and self-reported depression. Women with low literacy were five times as likely to struggle with depression as those with no literacy problems. The flip side of this – a bit of good news! – is that literacy instruction has been shown to actually decrease depression in this group of people.
As a parent or teacher, these stats are hard to read, especially if your child is struggling right now. But the good news is that there is plenty of help — and you have time to get it right! The younger your child is, the better… But the bottom line is that if you are able to intervene when children are still children, then these statistics will never apply to your learner.
Sarah Forrest is a Program Advisor for David Morgan Education and contributor at helpingchildrentoread.com. She joined DM Ed in Oxford, England after studying Spanish lit at Yale University. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she coaches parents and children through trainertext visual phonics.