The global agenda for sustainable development has centred lifelong learning on UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action. The study described in this article aimed to examine international and intergenerational variations in literacy skills gaps within the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For this purpose, the author examined the trend of literacy gaps in different countries using multilevel and multisource data from the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning survey data from the third edition of the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III). In this article, particular attention is paid to exploring the specific effects of education systems on literacy skills gaps among different age groups., Key findings of this study indicate substantial intergenerational literacy gaps within countries as well as different patterns of literacy gaps across countries. Young generations generally outscore older adults in literacy skills, but feature bigger gaps when examined by gender and social origin. In addition, this study finds an interesting tendency for young generations to benefit from a system of Recognition, Validation and Accreditation (RVA) in closing literacy gaps by formal schooling at country level. This implies the potential of an RVA system for tackling educational inequality in initial schooling. The article concludes with suggestions for integrating literacy skills as a foundation of lifelong learning into national RVA frameworks and mechanisms at system level.