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The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) is an international survey conducted in 40 countries that measures the key cognitive and workplace skills needed for individuals to participate in society and for economies to prosper. PIAAC is designed to assess adults in different countries over a broad range of abilities, from simple reading to complex problem solving skills.

Specifically, PIAAC measures relationships between individuals' educational background, workplace experiences and skills, occupational attainment, use of information and communications technology, and cognitive skills. It measures, in particular:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Problem solving in technology-rich environments.
  • Educators, policy makers and labor economists will use this information to develop economic, education and social policies that will continue to enhance the skills of adults.


    Key U.S. Findings 

    • Scores for U.S. millennials are below the OECD average across all three skill domains: literacy, numeracy and problem-solving
    • The U.S. mean literacy score was below the international average—ranking 13th out of 224 countries.
    • The average literacy score for adults in the U.S. was 272 out of 500.
    • Thirteen percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the literacy scale.
    • The average numeracy score for adults in the U.S. was 257 out of 500.
    • Ten percent of adults in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the numeracy scale.
    • The average score for adults in the U.S. on the problem-solving in technology-rich environments was 274 out of 500.
    • Five percent of adults in the U.S. and 7 percent of adults under 35 in the U.S. performed at the highest proficiency level on the problem-solving/technology scale.

    Key International Findings Key

    • On average, across countries, the median hourly wage of workers who scored at levels 4 or 5 is more than 60 percent higher than those who scored at Level 1 or below.
    • Those with poor literacy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.
    • Countries with lower skill levels risk losing in competitiveness as the world economy becomes more dependent on skills.
    • Men and women have very similar proficiency levels.
    • In nearly all countries, at least 10 percent of adults lack the most elementary computer skills.
    • Successful literacy integration of immigrants is not a matter of time but of incentives and policies that encourage language learning.
    • Those with lower skills proficiency also tend to report poorer health, less trust, and lower civic engagement. 
    • Finland and Japan both have large shares of top-performers.
    • Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden combine above-average performance with a high level of equity.