Changes in literacy skills as cohorts age: a demographic reconstruction of adult literacy test results
Claudia Reiter1
1Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital

As our societies transform into knowledge societies, skills are playing an ever-increasing role in life. Despite recent efforts to consistently measure adult skills across countries, a challenge remains to understand how skills evolve over time and the main drivers behind these changes. By applying demographic methods to estimate the development of skills over the life course, this paper presents the reconstruction of empirical adult literacy test results along cohort lines by age, sex, and educational attainment for 44 countries for the period 1970-2015.

Results suggest significant heterogeneity in the pattern of changes with age, reflecting the different exposure to cognitive stimulation over the life course. On the aggregate level, findings reveal considerable differences between countries – both regarding the level of skills and their development over time. Overall, it was found that massive educational expansions happening globally in the recent past only partly resulted in a likewise rise of skills.