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Adult literacy and economic growth - WP 04/24

1.3  Review methods

Publications were found by searching a variety of databases and on-line collections. In particular, an EconLit search was conducted using the terms “literacy”, “numeracy”, “basic skills”, “cognitive skills”, “IALS”, and “NALS”. For Chapter 6, databases with an education and training focus were also used,[9] and search terms were widened correspondingly. Government websites in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States were searched, as were the websites of literacy organisations and clearinghouses for adult literacy research. A selection of the more helpful websites for this review is given in Table 1.[10] Further literature was found by following up references in publications.

Table 1 – Websites containing research on adult literacy
Organisation name URL
New Zealand Literacy Portal
Ministry of Education
Department of Labour
Department for Education and Skills
National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy
Basic Skills Agency
Learning and Skills Development Agency
Statistics Canada
Human Resources Development Canada
National Adult Literacy Database
National Center for Educational Statistics
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy
National Institute for Literacy

1.4  How the paper is structured

The paper is set out as follows. Chapter 2 looks at literacy skills in New Zealand, using data from IALS, and includes a comparison with other countries. It also develops a picture of those New Zealanders who have the lowest literacy skills. A detailed description of the IALS results is required since there has been no comprehensive write-up of the New Zealand IALS data. Chapter 3 is an introduction to the economic effects of improving literacy skills. It concludes that the most promising types of studies for these purposes are cross-country growth studies, studies of individual returns to literacy skills, and evaluations of specific literacy programmes. These three types of studies are discussed in detail in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Chapter 7 discusses the findings of the paper.


  • [9]These databases were Eric, Psyclit, Wilson Select Plus, and the British Education Index.
  • [10]A far more comprehensive list of adult literacy websites is given in the appendix of Brooks, Giles, Harman, Kendall, Rees and Whittaker (2001b).
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