Fewer than 12% of adults are competent at math
Nope, this isn’t a joke about writers’ math skills: Just 12% of adults around the world are numerically literate, according to an enormous global literacy study.
Which means that 88% of your audience members may find your bar charts, financial objectives and other communications involving numbers discombobulating.
Welcome to the world of numeracy, or numerical literacy, today, according to the to the 2013 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC.
PIAAC is an enormous, every-10-year study of adult literacy, developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The study seeks to determine how well adults are prepared to function in today’s society.
Here’s how they stack up …
Below level 1: 0-225
Percentage of U.S. adults 16+: 5%
Skills: Perform basic tasks: counting, arithmetic with whole numbers.
Sample task: Review four price tags, which include the date packed, then indicate which item was packed first.
Level 1: 226-275
Percentage of U.S. adults 16+: 14%
Skills: Perform one-step tasks: count, sort, perform math, understand simple percentages (such as 50%).
Sample task: Calculate how many layers of candles are in the box that says there are 105 candles in the box and shows there are five rows of seven candles.
Level 2: 276-325
Percentage of U.S. adults 16+: 34%
Skills: Perform two or more calculations — simple measurements, spatial representations and estimates — and interpret simple tables and graphs.
Sample task: Review a motor vehicle logbook with columns for dates of trip, odometer readings and distance traveled; then calculate trip expenses at 35 cents a mile plus $40 a day.
Level 3: 326-375
Percentage of U.S. adults 16+: 35%
Skills: Understand and work with mathematical patterns, proportions and basic statistics expressed in verbal or numerical forms.
Sample task: Review an illustration of a flattened box identifying its dimensions, then identify which of four pictures bests represents the assembled box.
Level 4/5: 376-500
Percentage of U.S. adults 16+: 12%
Skills: 4: Perform analysis and complex reasoning; understand statistics and change and spatial relationships; communicate well-reasoned answers.
5: Understand complex abstract mathematical and statistical ideas embedded in complex tasks; draw interferences, arguments or models; justify, reflect on solutions or choices.
Sample task: Review two stacked-column bar graphs representing how many years of schooling men and women in Mexico have had by decade, then identify the percentage of men who had more than 6 years of schooling in 1970.
How low can you go?
The results? Worldwide, adults weighed in at an average numeracy rate of 269 out of 500. That puts them at level 2, or below basic, numeracy skills.
Only nine countries, led by Japan, achieve even basic average numeracy rates
Numbers game Only two countries, with Spain at bottom, scored worse than the United States in numeracy.
That means that, on average, these adults can figure out how many layers of candles are packed in a box of 105, with five rows of seven candles per layer. But they struggle to calculate trip expenses at 35 cents a mile plus $40 a day from a motor vehicle logbook with columns for date of trip, odometer readings and distance traveled.
How can you communicate numerical information in an environment where many people barely understand simple math?