Education, Government of India, India, Stories

NFHS-5: Gender and Urban-Rural divide observed in access to School Education


The phase-1 results of NFHS-5 were recently released. Among others, the survey report provides data on literacy rates and the proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling. For both these indicators, a large gender, as well as the urban-rural divide, is observed. Here is a detailed analysis. 

The key findings of Phase-1 of the National Family and Health Survey 2019-20 (NFHS-5) include facts sheets for 17 states and 5 Union territories. The survey provides an estimate for 131 key indicators across various categories. Factly has earlier written about some of the key findings from NFHS-5. These include – lifestyle diseases, a crime against women & Child Nutrition.  In this story, we take a look at a few of the key observations regarding literacy & formal education from the NFHS-5. 

Larger gap of literacy levels between Men & Women in Bihar & Telangana 

Among the key Indictors in NFHS-5 are the ones pertaining to literacy. This latest survey includes estimates of literates among men & women. According to the survey guidelines, this indicator refers to those ‘who completed standard 9 or higher and who can read a whole sentence or a part of a sentence.

The survey is conducted among the respondents aged between 15-49 years. As per the estimates of the survey, among the 22 States/UTs, Kerala has the highest percentage of the population who are identified as literate with 98.2% & 98.3% of men & women respectively. A good number of the states covered under the Phase-1 of the survey are the North Eastern States. 

  • All of the north-eastern states perform well on the literacy levels for both men & women with Assam being the least performer – 84.3% of Men & 77.2% of women being literate. 
  • Bihar, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana are among the states with a comparably lower proportion of literates among both Men & Women. 

Apart from the lower levels, the significant aspect is the difference between the literacy levels of men & women in these States especially Bihar & Telangana. 

  • In Bihar, it is estimated that 78.5% of Men are literate while it is only 57.8% among women i.e. a difference of 20.7%. 
  • Similarly, Telangana has a lower level of literacy among women with only 66.6%, around 18% less than that among the male population. 
  • Gujarat, J&K & Ladakh which have an impressive over 90% literacy in the case of men also reported a wider gap between the literacy levels of men & women.  
  • Comparably, Kerala and a few of the North-Eastern states do better with the gap between the literacy levels of men & women being much lower.  

The findings of Household Social Consumption of Education in India as part of NSS (National Statistical Survey)’s 75th round conducted during 2017-18 confirms these trends regarding the large gap between literacy levels of men & women in some states.  

As per this survey, 74% of the males of age 15 and above are literates in Bihar, while it is around 52% among females. In Telangana, 60% of females are estimated to be literate compared to around 77% among males. 

The lower literacy among Women in some states is starker in case of Rural Women 

Apart from the difference in the literacy rates among men & women, there is also a large divide between the Urban & Rural population. The difference is more prominent in the case of women. In most of the states, the Women in Urban areas fare well, at par with the overall literacy rate among males in the respective states. The lower literacy rates among women are mainly because of much lower literacy among rural women. 

  • Bihar, which has a lower women literacy rate, the situation is better in urban areas with 75% of women being literate while it is only 54.5% in rural areas. 
  • Even in Telangana, the literacy among urban women is 81%, compared to just 58.1% in the rural areas.
  • Gujarat & Andhra Pradesh are other states where the literacy among women in rural areas is much lower than that among urban women. 

As was the case with differences in literacy levels among men & women, the ‘Household Social Consumption of Education in India’ NSS report confirms this trend of the urban-rural divide in the case of women’s literacy rate. 

Significant improvement in the proportion of Men & Women with 10 or more years of Schooling

Apart from literacy, another related indicator in NFHS-5 is the estimate regarding the proportion of the population who have more than 10 years of schooling. This indicates access to minimal formal education. 

With the exception of men in Andhra Pradesh among the larger States, there has been an increase in the proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling during NFHS-5 compared to that of NFHS-4 across all the states and among both men & women. 

  • As per NFHS-5, it is estimated that on average, around 55% of men have more than 10 years of schooling compared to around 50% during NFHS-4. 
  • There is an improvement even among women, from around 41% to nearly 47% on average among these 22 States/UTs. 
  • Maharashtra had a significant improvement with a 7.4% increase among men and an 8.4% increase among women between NFHS-4 & NFHS-5.
  • There has been an increase of 6.7% among men in Telangana who have more than 10 years of schooling, compared to NFHS-4. The increase in the case of women is not as prominent with only 1.9%. 
  • In contrast to Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka & West Bengal are the states where-in there is marked improvement among women than men during NFHS-5 compared to NFHS-4 
  • North-eastern states which have recorded a higher literacy rate compared to the other states that are part of Phase-1 recorded a lower proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling. The same trend was observed even during NFHS-4. 

Only around a quarter of Rural Women in Gujarat, Bihar, Assam & West Bengal have 10 or more years of Schooling 

As was observed in the case of literacy rate, the proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling is lower among women in rural areas. Across the states, the proportion of urban women with 10 or more years of schooling is comparable and, in few cases even higher than that of average among men for the respective states. 

  • The Urban-rural difference is starker for 10 or more years of schooling compared to literacy levels, both in the case of men and women. 
  • The Urban-rural difference is among the highest in the North-eastern states. 
  • Among the larger states, West Bengal records a higher difference. Both in the case of men & women, the percentage of the population in rural areas who have 10 or more years of schooling is nearly half the estimates among the urban population. The percentage by itself is among the least with only about a quarter of the rural population having schooling for 10 or more years. 
  • Assam, Bihar, and Gujarat are among the other states with a lower proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling. However, the urban-rural difference among men is better off when compared to women. In the case of women, the proportion among rural women is nearly half that of urban women in these states. Telangana is not far behind in terms of this urban-rural difference among women.
  • Maharashtra, which had a significant improvement in the proportion of the population with 10 or more years of schooling compared to NFHS-4 has a larger urban-rural divide. 
  • Comparably, the difference is much lower in the case of Kerala and Goa 

Gender and Urban-Rural divide observed in access to Education

With more than 85% of the population estimated to be literate, India does seem to be doing well on this indicator. However, when formal education i.e. those with 10 or more years of schooling is taken into consideration, it is only around about 51% as per phase-1 results of NFHS-5, an improvement of 5% compared to NFHS-4. 

However, there is a large divide both in terms of gender and urban-rural in almost all the states. From an Urban-Rural perspective, 62% of the urban population have 10 or more years of schooling in these 22 States/UTs, while it is only about 45% among the rural population. From a gender perspective, it is 57% and 50% among men and women population respectively, with the rate for women being much lower for rural women. 

Rural women account for the least proportion of the population to have completed at least 10 years of formal education. The disparity in these two dynamics is starker in a few of the states as highlighted in the story. 

While improvement in literacy rate is a good sign, such an improvement also has to be aimed for in those completing a minimum of 10 years of schooling, especially in rural areas and among women. 


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