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Summary of contents

Overview of the study
Organization of the report

Overview of the study

The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL) is a large-scale co-operative effort undertaken by governments, national statistics agencies, research institutions and multi-lateral agencies. The development and management of the study were co-ordinated by Statistics Canada and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in collaboration with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the United States Department of Education, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC) and the Institute for Statistics (UIS) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The survey instruments were developed by international teams of experts with financing provided by the Governments of Canada and the United States. A highly diverse group of countries and experts drawn from around the world participated in the validation of the instruments. Participating governments absorbed the costs of national data collection and a share of the international overheads associated with implementation.

The ALL study builds on the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), the world’s first internationally comparative survey of adult skills undertaken in three rounds of data collection between 1994 and 1998. The foundation skills measured in the ALL survey include prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. Additional skills assessed indirectly include familiarity with and use of information and communication technologies.

This volume presents an initial set of findings for a group of seven countries or regions that collected data in 2003. They include Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the United States and the Mexican State of Nuevo Leon. As this report goes to press a second group of countries is in the field preparing for their ALL data collection in 2005.

Organization of the report

The main goal of this first ALL report is to present initial findings on the level and distribution of skills, and the relationships between skills and important background variables. The findings are presented in 11 chapters.

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the ALL study.

Chapter 2 compares the basic distributions of skill by age, gender and country. The chapter also presents evidence on how rapidly skill profiles have changed over time for those countries where such analyses could be conducted1.

Chapter 3 explores the relationship between each skill domain and education at various levels.

Chapter 4 documents the role skill plays in formal adult education and training markets and the effects of education and skill on continuing learning in informal and non-formal settings at home and at work.

Chapter 5 traces the influence of skill on employment and unemployment and on the transition from school to work.

Chapter 6 explores connections between the emergence of the knowledge economy, reading, writing and numeracy practices at work, and mismatch between observed skill and skill requirements at work.

Chapter 7 presents evidence on the profound effects of skill on earnings from work and investment income.

Chapter 8 focuses on the relationships between familiarity and use of information and communication technologies, labour market outcomes and the social distribution of ICT use and familiarity.

Chapter 9 sheds light on the relative skill levels of immigrants and on the implications of between-country differences in immigration patterns.

Chapter 10 concentrates on the relationship between parents’ education and skills, patterns of skill use and how engagement in various activities at home, at work and during leisure can vary by skill level.

Chapter 11 examines the relationship between skill and summary measures of physical and mental health and overall life satisfaction.

Annex A provides a detailed overview of the ALL proficiency scales – how they are defined, how they were measured, how proficiency was summarized and how proficiency estimates should be interpreted. Readers requiring additional technical information on the psychometric aspects of the study are referred to The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey: Aspects of Design, Development and Validation (Statistics Canada, 2004), The International Adult Literacy Survey: A Technical Report (NCES, 1997) and The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey: A Technical Report (Statistics Canada, 2005).

Annex B documents key aspects of survey administration, response and data quality.

Finally, Annex C identifies the experts, researchers and analysts who were involved in developing the ALL instruments, in implementing the national data collections, and in the writing, analytical and editorial work that made publication of this report possible.


  1. Comparable prose literacy and document literacy scores are available from the 1994 IALS study for Canada, Switzerland (German and French-speaking populations) and the United States, and from the 1998 IALS study for Norway, Italy and Switzerland (Italian-speaking population). The data sets thus allow for the analysis of changes in skill profiles over a nine and five-year period respectively.

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Date modified: 2005-05-25 Important Notices
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