Adults in the United States do not measure up well on literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to solve problems in technology rich environments according to OECD’s Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adults Skills (2013). The new survey ranks the U.S. 16th of 23 countries in adult literacy, 21st of 23 countries in adult numeracy and 14th of 23 countries in problem-solving. The survey included adults ages 16-65 and focuses in how adults develop literacy and numeracy skills, how they use those skills and what benefits they gain from them. The Survey of Adult Skills is part of the Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).
The top four countries on literacy and numeracy are Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden for numeracy and Australia for literacy. In Finland and Japan, one of every five adults ranks at levels four or five on the five-level survey. Italy and Spain, which rank at the bottom for both literacy and numeracy, have only one of every 20 adults who ranks at this level. Adults at this level can, for example, make complex inferences from texts and can analyze and engage in complex reasoning about quantities and data, statistics and chance, spatial relationships, change, proportions and formulae. The survey reports an increase likelihood of high earnings, high levels of trust and political efficacy, good health, participation in volunteer activities and employability for adults ranking at the highest end of the survey scale as compared to those at the low end.
The survey does more than rank the countries, offering some interesting findings about the countries in the survey including the difference in the impact of social background on literacy skills in different countries. The U.S. is among the group of countries where social background has a major impact on literacy skills, with adults whose parents had low levels of education having much lower literacy skills than those whose parents had high levels of education, although this is much less true for younger adults than older adults. Japan, Australia and the Netherlands all have high performance with social background having much less impact on skills levels. The survey also found that young adults with only a high school education in some countries, such as Japan and the Netherlands, outperform young adults from other countries such as Italy and Spain who are university graduates.
It should be noted that the results from this survey include 23 countries of which Hong Kong, New Zealand, Shanghai and Singapore — top performers in PISA which in its last administration included 65 countries — are not part of this first effort by OECD to measure literacy skills in adults. New Zealand and Singapore will take part in the next PIACC survey which will be released in 2016.
For the full reports, see: http://skills.oecd.org/skillsoutlook.html