Literacy and social inequalities in the Portuguese society
CIES-ISCTE and Department of Quantitative Methods ISCTE Lisboa, Portugal
Contemporary societies witness an unparalleled universalisation and democratisation of access to reading and writing. Present-day societies are characterised not only by the pervasive and across-the board presence of writing but also by the fact that, in these societies, the mastery of writing becomes of critical importance to individuals. Departing from significantly different conceptual positions numerous theoretical reflections on contemporary societies have showed that the absence of skills in processing written information compromises reflexivity and the access to knowledge and information. Inequalities in the distribution of literacy competencies can therefore be associated with the main social divisions and inequalities in the knowledge societies.
The aim of this communication is the sociological analysis of literacy distributions in the Portuguese society. The empirical data used is the international adult literacy survey (IALS) and also a qualitative research recently conducted in Portugal.
International large scale assessments in this field have attempted to deal with an important issue: the discontinuity often encountered between school level obtained and the actual competencies in reading and writing. This is achieved with a methodological strategy that aims to assess the literacy levels of adult population. The data obtained through these studies offer an important opportunity for the sociological analysis of the relation between literacy and social inequalities in contemporary societies.
The results to be presented in this communication show that Portugal is one of the countries with a higher proportion of adults in the lowest literacy levels and, simultaneously, presents one of the highest levels of internal inequalities. The analysis conducted (using multiple correspondence analysis) also shows that literacy competencies are strongly associated with other social stratification dimensions. For example, the association between socio-occupational categories and literacy confirms literacy as an indispensable condition for people's access to employment and to the most advantages positions in the social structure.
The factors underlying this situation were also explored (using regression analysis). The main conclusion is that individual's literacy profiles cannot be understood without paying attention to educational background and also to everyday reading and writing practices: literacy competencies are anchored in daily practices and habits, which, in turn, strengthen and update these competencies.