Societal Damnation 45: Lack of Math Competency

Back in 2010, SI ran a post on how This is Scary! We Have To Fix This that referenced a MSNBC article on Why American Consumers Can’t Add that reported on a recent study that found:

  • Only 2 in 5 Americans can pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip,
  • Only 1 in 5 Americans can reliably calculate mortgage interest, and, most importantly
  • Only 13% of Americans were deemed “proficient”. That means

    less than 1 in 7 American adults are “proficient” at math.


And while Procurement needs to be able to deal from a full deck of skills (and SI has compiled a list of 52 unique IQ, EQ, and TQ skills a CPO will need to succeed which will be explored in future posts over on the new Spend Matters CPO site where the doctor and the maverick are co-authoring a number of series on the CPO job description and the requirements therefore, starting with The CPO Job Description: An Overview), many of them rely on math. In fact, with so many C-Suites demanding savings, if a Procurement Pro can’t adequately, and accurately, compute a cost savings number that the C-Suite will accept, one will be tossed out the door faster than Jazzy Jeff gets tossed out of the Banks manner.

However, the United States is not the only country with a numeracy issue. If you review the recent OECD Skills Outlook report that presented the initial results of the global Survey of Adult Skills (that focussed on reading, X, and numeracy), you see that of the 23 countries listed, Australia, Canada, UK, and France, all of which are home to head-offices of global multi-nationals with big Procurement budgets and bigger need for top talent, are all below average with the United States. While over 60% of Japanese adults have a higher level of Math proficiency, in Australia and Canada, it’s slightly over 40% and in the US it’s barely over 30%. However, this still doesn’t meant that these people can do basic calculations required for tips, mortgages, or savings calculations. For example, higher starts at Level 3 (where the survey respondent scored 276 to 326 points) and the description of level 3 is “tasks at this level require the respondent to understand mathematical information that may be less explicit, embedded in contexts that are not always familiar and represented in more complex ways“. Tasks involving multiple steps and problem solving are level 4, and the percentages here are dismal. Less than 10% in the US and barely over 10% in Australia and Canada. (In Japan, it’s around 20%!) This means that less than 1 in 10 adults in many countries have the basic math skills necessary to do mathematically intensive jobs which include the majority of the sciences, economics and finance, and Supply Management!

And performance seems to be getting worse every year. This is not a good sign in an inflationary economy with restricted demand where advanced analysis, modelling, and optimization is required to find efficiency and savings. We need more math, and less electro-mechanical devices that purport to do it for us. (Otherwise, we won’t even be able to compute just how damned we are!)