GenderStats 2: The Literacy Gap

22 October 2021 | Education, Gender, Literacy

Ankur Bhardwaj

Ankur Bhardwaj

Editor, Centre for Economic Data and Analysis

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Literacy is one of the basic indicators of a society’s development. It enables an individual’s in social, economic, and cultural growth in a society. When we look at literacy from the point of view of gender, it also reveals the gap between men and women in that society. In this second part of CEDA’s special Picture This series, GenderStats, we look at gender gap in literacy in various states and union territories (UTs), as per NFHS-5.

According to NFHS-3 (2005-06), Indian women had a literacy rate of 55.1 percent while men had a literacy rate of 78.1 percent. This gender gap of 23 percentage points in NFHS-3 was reduced to 17.3 percentage points in NFHS-4 (2015-16) as women’s literacy rate improved to 68.4 percent and men’s literacy rate rose to 85.7 percent. NFHS-5 is yet to release all-India figures for literacy.

The graph shows the total literacy rate for men and women and their gap in various states and UTs, as per NFHS-5 (2019-20). NFHS-5 phase 1 fact sheets for states show us that Kerala has the highest literacy rate for both rural and urban women in the country at 97.5 percent and 99.1 percent respectively. The total literacy rate for women in the state is 98.3 percent. Of the states and UTs for which NFHS-5 has released the data so far, Kerala is one of two states where women have a higher overall literacy rate than men. The other state is Meghalaya where women’s overall literacy rate (88.2 percent) is 4.5 percentage points higher than men’s overall literacy rate (83.7 percent).

Among these states, the highest gender gap in literacy is seen in Bihar at 20.7 percentage points. Bihar’s men have an overall literacy rate of 78.5 percent while women have a literacy rate of 57.8 percent. Telangana follows Bihar closely with a gender gap of 18.2 percentage points with a male literacy rate of 84.8 percent and a female literacy rate of 66.6 percent.

For states with larger population sizes (for which NFHS-5 data is available), West Bengal has a literacy gender gap of 5.5 percentage points, Assam 7.1 percentage points, Maharashtra 8.4 percentage points, while Karnataka has a gap of 11.8 percentage points.

NFHS-5 provides literacy rates for population aged 15-49 years. Women or men who have completed standard 9 or higher and women or men who can read a whole sentence or part of a sentence are considered literate.

“GenderStats by CEDA” is a new series by the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis on the Picture This page. With the help of graphs, we will highlight the socio-economic and health status of Indian women and help understand their position vis-à-vis Indian men and other women in the rest of the world. If you have a suggestion for us or if there is an indicator that you would like us to focus on, please write to us at

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