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"The man who does not read has no advantage
over the man who cannot read."—Mark Twain

Illiteracy is an immense problem in the world today. The United Nations defines illiteracy as the inability to read and write a simple sentence in any language. Imagine not being able to read the ingredients on a package in the store or to write a simple letter to a friend! Most of us here in the U.S. cannot imagine such a thing, and yet in this day and age of technology, we are increasingly neglecting our reading skills.

This page will give you statistics about literacy as well as quotes from prophets and the scriptures about the importance of reading good books. Feel free to use this information as needed in lesson and talks. We must all do our part to stop illiteracy from taking deeper root in our society.


  • Figures of 1998 show that 16% of the world population was illiterate (by the UN definition). That means 944 million people could not read or write a simple sentence. Today that figure is higher.
  • In the United States alone, one in seven persons (over 40 million people) can barely read a job offer or utility bill, which arguably makes them functionally illiterate in a developed country such as the US.
  • In 2003 the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), conducted by the US Department of Education, found that fourteen percent of American adults scored at this “below basic” level in prose literacy. More than half of these persons did not have a high-school diploma or GED. Thirty-seven percent of persons at this level were White, thirty-nine percent were Hispanic, and twenty percent were Black.
  • In comparison with the previous NAAL study in 1992, overall literacy had declined by 2003, with men doing more poorly than women.
  • Literacy among college graduates declined between 1992 and 2003, with less than one third of all graduates at the highest “proficient” level in 2003.
  • One problem in developed countries is the rise of secondary and tertiary illiteracy in recent years, which means the complete or partial loss of previously existing reading and writing skills due to lack of practice.
  • 44% of American adults do not read a book in a year.
  • A publishing industry study showed that from April 1990 to March 1991, 6 out of 10 households did not buy a single book.
  • Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
  • 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
  • 16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.
  • Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.
  • Many missionaries who show up at the MTC have to be taught how to read and understand the scriptures because their literacy level is so low.
  • Illiteracy is most often passed on from parent to child. If you don't read, your children won't likely read either. Let your children see you read, and read to them often. They are never to young or old to read with you.
  • President Gordon B. Hinckley
    Read good books together . . . I feel sorry for parents who do not read to their young children. I feel sorry for children who do not learn the wonders to be found in good books . . . If we could follow a slogan that says, "Turn off the TV and open a good book," we would do something of substance in strengthening another generation . . . If you cannot find good heroes and heroines for your children on television, help your children find them in good books.
  • D&C 90:15
    And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.
  • Discourses of Brigham Young, p.248
    We are in a great school, and we should be diligent to learn, and continue to store up the knowledge of heaven and of earth, and read good books . . . . Read good books, and extract from them wisdom and understanding as much as you possibly can, aided by the Spirit of God.
  • John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, p.274
    We want to be alive in the cause of education. We are commanded of the Lord to obtain knowledge, both by study and by faith, seeking it out of the best books. And it becomes us to teach our children, and afford them instructions in every branch of education calculated to promote their welfare . . . . We want to compile the intelligence and literacy of this people in book form, as well as in teaching, preaching; adopting all the good and useful books we can obtain; make them.
  • Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, p.204
    HOME LIBRARIES SHOULD BE PROVIDED. It is within our power to guide our youth in their reading and to cultivate in their hearts a desire for good books. It is most unfortunate where a person is not possessed with the desire for good reading. The reading habit, like charity, should begin at home. It is the duty of every parent to provide in his home a library of suitable books to be at the service of the family. The library need not be large, nor the books of the most expensive binding, but there should be a well chosen variety of the most select that can be obtained.

    Children should be encouraged in the home to read and be instructed in the value of good books and how to discriminate between the good and the bad in literature. It is far better for a home to be thus provided where the children can be entertained with a good, wholesome story than to more than waste their time . . . upon the streets in company of evil associates. . . .

    Not one of us is so poor but that we are able to purchase a few good books for the home. A small library of the most worthy books in this day of cheap printing may be had for a trifling sum. There is scarcely a family in the land that does not spend for amusement, or in pleasure that could be dispensed with, a sum each year that would purchase a suitable course of reading.
  • Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, p.206
    DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF BAD LITERATURE. A book may not be classed as bad, but we should ask ourselves if it contains any thought that will benefit us intellectually, morally, or spiritually, if we read it. I do not mean to say that a book written solely to amuse is necessarily bad and to be condemned, for some of our most worthy authors have given to the world good books of this kind that can safely be recommended. But if the aim of a book is not uplifting or helpful to the reader it should be avoided.
  • The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.383
    Read in spare time. Numerous leisure hours have been made available to men. It is noticeable that many use these extra hours for fun and pleasure. Certainly an increased part of it could profitably be used for gaining knowledge and culture through the reading of good books.
  • The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.386
    Literacy offers pleasure. We speak of literacy and education in terms of being prepared for a better occupation, but we cannot underestimate the present pleasure of our reading in the scriptures, Church magazines, and good books of every kind.
  • Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.321
    Successful parents have found that it is not easy to rear children in an environment polluted with evil. Therefore, they take deliberate steps to provide the best of wholesome influences. Moral principles are taught. Good books are made available and read. Television watching is controlled. Good and uplifting music is provided. But most important, the scriptures are read and discussed as a means to help develop spiritual mindedness.

    Early in life, these two quotations regarding books greatly influenced me: Be as careful of the book you read as of the company you keep, for your habits and character will be influenced by the former as by the latter; and Except a living man there is nothing so wonderful as good books. With all my heart, I urge young people to cultivate the reading habit. But in order that your reading be of maximum value choose it as carefully as you do your friends. I trust that we do so remembering that if we spend time reading a cheap book, we will be forced to pass by a choice one. (So Shall Ye Reap, p. 133.)
  • Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1
    Members of the Church are encouraged to take full advantage of public education opportunities where available. . . .Without literacy individuals are handicapped—spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially and economically. Education is often not only the key to the individual member's economic future, but also to his opportunities for self-realization, for full Church service and for contributing to the world around him—spiritually, politically, culturally and socially (Annual Report, 1971).