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Published in Social Science Research 40:5 (September 2011), pp. 1465–1476; doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2011.05.002 Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.


Literacy is associated with many outcomes of research interest as well as with respondents’ ability to even participate in surveys, yet very few surveys attempt to measure it because doing so is often complex, requiring extensive tests. The central goal of this paper is to develop a parsimonious measure of respondents’ reading ability that does not require a complex literacy test. We use data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy to identify correlates of reading ability to form a literacy index. These correlates include self-assessments of one’s ability to understand, read and write English, and literacy practices at home. Our literacy index reliably discerns literacy test scores above educational attainment, and the index shows high internal consistency (coefficient alpha = 0.78) and validity. The paper concludes with implications of these findings for survey research practitioners and suggestions for future research.

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