They say there are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can’t.

Americans seem to fall into that can’t-count category, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I recently came across data from the Survey of Adult Skills, a test administered primarily in developed nations. On the literacy assessment, Americans did okay, scoring close to the middle of the pack. But on the numeracy assessment, we did abysmally. Of the countries for which the OECD has published data, the United States did better than only two.


Source: Survey of Adult Skills 2012, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Note: The sample for the Russian Federation does not include the population of the Moscow municipal area.

The scores vary by age group, with young people generally performing much better than older people within almost every country.

Interestingly, it’s the younger cohorts who are dragging U.S. numeracy scores down. Americans aged 55 to 65 did okay, if not exactly spectacularly, when compared with their counterparts in other countries. But among those aged 16 to 24, Americans scored the worst of any country, and among those aged 25 to 34, Americans had the second-lowest score.

Here’s a sample question from the numeracy assessment, to give you a flavor of what the test measures:


Survey of Adult Skills sample item, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.