May 142011

For at least the last century, literacy for Mexican males has been significantly higher than that for females. According to the 2010 census 93.7% of Mexican males aged 15 and over were literate compared to only 91.1% of females. Males have higher literacy levels in all 32 Mexican states except for Sinaloa (males – 94.1%, females – 94.7%) and Sonora (males – 96.2% and females – 96.3%). We introduced the spatial aspects of literacy in Mexico in an earlier post:

The greatest gaps between literacy among males and females are in states with relatively low literacy levels (Pearson correlation = 0.89). For example, in Chiapas male literacy is 86.0% while that for females is only 77.5% for a difference of 8.5%. Other states with large gaps are Oaxaca (87.3% – 79.4%, gap of 7.9%), Guerrero (85.4% – 79.8%, gap of 5.6%), and Puebla (91.7% – 86.8%, gap of 4.9%). The data suggest that as literacy levels in states increase, the gap between males and females should decline.

Will the gap between male and female literacy levels decline in the decades ahead? Date from the 2010 census indicates that both illiteracy rates and the gap between males and females are far greater for older Mexicans. For those over age 75, male literacy is 71.2% while that for females is only 62.3% resulting in a gap of 8.9%. The gap is 8.4% for those between 60 and 74 years of age (83.3% versus 74.9%) and 4.4% for the 45 – 59 age group (93.1 versus 88.7%). The gap for those between 30 and 44 years of age is only 1.1% (96.4% versus 95.3%) and for the 15 to 29 age group, males and females are equal at 98.1%.

Does this trend suggest that female literacy will surpass male literacy in the future? The answer to this question appears to be yes. Data from the 2010 census on children between ages six and 15 indicates female literacy (87.32%) is already 1.33% higher than male literacy (85.98%). These levels seem rather low because literacy levels for children below age ten, particularly males, are generally lower. For example, among children age seven, literacy for females is 3.06% higher than that for males (73.91% versus 70.85%). That nearly 30% of seven-year-olds are illiterate suggests a problem; but most of these will become literate by age 15. Among children between age 14 and 15, female literacy is 98.40% compared to 98.09% for males.

The census provides data on the literacy of children for each age between age six and 15 for all 32 Mexican states. Literacy rates for female children are higher than those for males in all 288 observations (9 age groups times 32 states), expect for five (ages 11, 12, 13 & 14 in Chiapas and age 12 in Tlaxcala).

The largest gap between females and males is 4.6% for six-year-olds in Zacatecas (females – 43.51%, males – 38.91%). Other large gaps exist for seven-year-olds in Zacatecas (4.41%), six-year-olds in Querétaro (4.37%), seven-year-olds in Tamaulipas (4.34%), and seven-year-olds in Tabasco (4.33%). These findings are consistent with other evidence indicating that females develop language skills at younger ages than males. The data clearly indicate that female literacy is surpassing male literacy. Perhaps more importantly, both males and females are now approaching universal literacy.

We assume that the literacy gap between female and male children will continue in future decades. After a decade or two, we expect adult literacy rates for females to catch and surpass those for males. On the other hand, this gap will be very small because Mexico is quickly approaching universal literacy. When data become available we will analyze the gap in total years of education between females and males. We expect the situation in Mexico to move slowly towards the pattern in the USA, where females now have more years of education and more university degrees than males.

Literacy rates are, of course, only one of the many aspects of gender inequality in Mexico.

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