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This paper analyzes the numeracy skills of U.S. young adults (16-34 years old) in comparison with France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden using data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).
This comparative research is motivated by the anxiety regarding the future competitiveness of the U.S. economy in numeracy-related field, in the context of high demand and growth in STEM labor markets. (Xue and Larson, 2015; Burning Glass Technologies, 2014) Within the global context, it has been noted that a larger share of college graduates working in STEM occupations were foreign-born compared to in the overall U.S. population (National Science Board, 2015). Additionally, previous PIAAC results show that U.S. young adults performed poorly in all three domains, particularly in numeracy. Although the results showed a strong relationship between educational attainment and skill level across countries, they also showed that even the high levels of education for many U.S. millennials do not necessarily translate to higher skills (Goodman et al., 2015). With the millennial generation making up the future of the labor force, it becomes increasingly important to understand their numeracy skills.
Data & Methods
The PIAAC 2012 datasets for France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden and the PIAAC 2012/14 dataset for the U.S. were used. Analysis was limited to numeracy, comparing U.S. young adults to their peers in these countries to give a more focused comparison to countries representing a range of average scores and geographic areas with which the U.S. generally compares itself internationally.
Descriptive analysis was used to look at the performance of young adults in these countries by demographic characteristics. To further understand the strength of the relationship between certain demographic characteristics and the numeracy skills of young adults, OLS regression models were also used.
U.S. young adults scored significantly lower than the other countries. This pattern continues even when separating the data by demographic subgroups and there is not a single category in which U.S. young adults scored significantly higher than their international peers. Across gender, all levels of parental education, and almost all categories of occupational classification, U.S. young adults scored lower than all comparison countries. By education, only U.S. young adults with graduate or professional degrees scored on par internationally.
The regression results show that U.S. young adults with low levels of educational attainment and parental education perform lower than their peers internationally. The regression results also show that higher levels of parental education in U.S. and Germany provide larger numeracy skills gains than in the other countries but gains made by U.S. young adults in numeracy skills via formal education while on mostly on par internationally, are not enough to make up the gap.
The numeracy skills of U.S. young adults are behind internationally across most demographics, including when analyzed via linear regression. These results are of particular concern because they show that the future of the U.S. is not performing up to par with the rest of the world.