The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey: Gender, ethnicity and literacy

Publication Details

This report is the third in a series of four that investigate the initial results of the ALL survey. It presents an overview of New Zealanders’ skills in relation to gender and ethnicity, and any changes since 1996.

Author(s): Paul Satherley & Elliot Lawes, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: September 2008

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Section 1: Overview

  • How is literacy skill distributed across the female New Zealand adult population?
  • How is literacy skill distributed across the male New Zealand adult population?
  • How is literacy skill distributed across New Zealand's adult population according to ethnicity?
  • Have there been any changes in these distributions over the past 10 years? 


The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey was designed to answer these and other questions.  ALL measures literacy skills in the English language. 

Why do we need these answers? The skill demands of a modern economy and society are becoming increasingly complex. If New Zealand is to maintain and enhance its position in the world economy, its adult population – including both women and men, and people with different ethnic backgrounds – needs to have high levels of generic and technical skills. The ALL survey provides an insight into our current skill levels for these sub-populations, and this insight is essential for the development of initiatives to maintain and enhance these levels and reduce inequities. In the longer term, having data from the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and ALL gives us a baseline against which to track movement in levels of skill development for key groups.

This report is the third in a series of four that investigate the initial results of the ALL survey. It presents an overview of New Zealanders' skills in relation to gender and ethnicity, and any changes since 1996.

Key findings

Gender

  • For both women and men, average prose literacy skill remained relatively stable between 1996 and 2006.  However, the proportion of people with very low and very high prose literacy skill decreased.
  • For both women and men, average document literacy skill rose and the proportion of people with very low document literacy skill decreased.
  • Women had relative strength in prose literacy and men had relative strength in numeracy.
  • The distributions of problem-solving skills were very similar for men and women.

Gender and income

  • For both women and men, on average, higher income is associated with greater prose literacy skill and numeracy skill.
  • The mean income for men was at least two income-deciles higher than for women with the same prose literacy and numeracy skills.
  • For full-time employed men and women, the mean income for men was at least one income-decile higher than for women with the same prose literacy and numeracy skills. 

Ethnicity

  • The overall prose literacy skills of the New Zealand European, Māori and Asian ethnic groups rose, but those of the Pasifika ethnic group decreased.
  • The overall document literacy skills of New Zealand European, Māori and Asian ethnic groups rose. Those of the Pasifika ethnic group remained relatively stable.
  • The New Zealand European, Asian and Other ethnic groups were over-represented in the higher performers in numeracy skill, and the Māori and Pasifika ethnic groups were over-represented in the low performers.
  • The New Zealand European and Other ethnic groups were over-represented in the higher performers in problem-solving skill, and the Māori , Pasifika and Asian ethnic groups were over-represented in the low performers.

Ethnicity and up-skilling

  • The Asian and Māori ethnic groups had the highest participation rates in formal up-skilling, the New Zealand European and Other ethnic groups had the highest participation rates in non-formal up-skilling, and the Pasifika ethnic group had the highest proportion with self-directed or no up-skilling.
  • Across all ethnic groups, those with higher document literacy had higher participation rates in both formal and non-formal up-skilling than those with low document literacy.

Language most frequently spoken in the home

  • Those who most frequently spoke a language other than English in the home had substantially lower overall prose literacy in English and numeracy skills (measured in English) than those who most frequently spoke English. This difference was less marked for numeracy than for prose literacy. 
  • However, there was an increase between 1996 and 2006 in the overall prose literacy skill for both groups.

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