European nations tops in Most Literate Nations study


First analysis of its kind

NEW BRITAIN, CT, United States, 08-Mar-2016 — /EuropaWire/ — The World’s Most Literate Nations (WMLN) study, the first to analyze large-scale trends in literate behavior and literacy in more than 60 countries, finds the Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden,) are among the five most literate nations in the world, while the U.S. and Canada rank 7th and 11th respectively.

The study, conducted by John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT., is used as a lens to view literate behaviors and their supporting resources — five categories such as size and number of libraries and newspaper readership.

Miller has spent the past 12 years producing the highly regarded “America’s Most Literate Cities” survey (2003-2014). He and his research team examined data for 200 countries, but due to missing, relevant data, only 61 made the cut.

“The power of literacy and the value of being part of a literate world is often taken for granted,” observes Miller. “The factors we examined present a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality, and what the rankings strongly suggest and world literacy demonstrates,” Miller explains, “is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics that define our global future.”


Country Rank Country Rank Country Rank
Finland 1 Malta 21 Romania 41
Norway 2 South Korea 22 Portugal 42
Iceland 3 Czech Republic 23 Brazil 43
Denmark 4 Ireland 24 Croatia 44
Sweden 5 Italy 25 Qatar 45
Switzerland 6 Austria 26 Costa Rica 46
United States 7 Russia 27 Argentina 47
Germany 8 Slovenia 28 Mauritius 48
Latvia 9 Hungary 29 Serbia 49
Netherlands 10 Slovak Republic 30 Turkey 50
Canada 11 Lithuania 31 Georgia 51
France 12 Japan 32 Tunisia 52
Luxembourg 13 Cyprus 33 Malaysia 53
Estonia 14 Bulgaria 34 Albania 54
New Zealand 15 Spain 35 Panama 55
Australia 16 Singapore 36 South Africa 56
United Kingdom 17 Chile 37 Colombia 57
Belgium 18 Mexico 38 Morocco 58
Israel 19 China 39 Thailand 59
Poland 20 Greece 40 Indonesia 60
Botswana 61


Miller’s study synthesizes two types of variables: literacy achievement tests (PIRLS – Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment) and literate behavior characteristics (population, newspapers, libraries, years of schooling). For details on methodology, go to

A companion book, “World Literacy: How Countries Rank And Why It Matters” (Routledge, 2016) authored by Miller and Michael C. McKenna, provides an extended analysis of many of the factors involved in this study and may be helpful in interpreting the results.

“The factors we examine present a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality,” says Miller. “And what the rankings strongly suggest and world literacy demonstrates is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economies that define our global future.”


One consistent finding, according to Miller, is that “there is no meaningful correlation between years of compulsory schooling and educational expenditures on the one hand and test scores on the other.

Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden earn the five top slots in the study, largely because “their monolithic culture values reading,” Miller says.

He also points out that the rankings would be “very different” if educational outputs (PIRLS and PISA) were the only indices used. “The Pacific Rim countries, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and China, would top the list if test performance was the only measure. Finland would be the only non-Pacific Rim country to rank high,” he states, and adds, “When factors such as library size and accessibility are added in, the Pacific Rim nations drop dramatically.”

The Western Hemisphere countries do not fare well overall in the study. Mexico ranks 38th, Brazil 43rd, and Costa Rica comes in at 46th. For the U.S., Miller says, while the years of compulsory education have increased, the practice of literate behaviors has decreased, and the ability to read stays relatively the same. “It is not so much that we are slowing down in this world race, but rather that others are speeding up,” he emphasizes.

The complete rankings are available online at



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