Analyzes data from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Survey of Adult Skills to compare use of numeracy skills in the workplace by men and women both in the United States and abroad.

“While much prior research has investigated the underrepresentation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) college majors and careers, most of this scholarship has looked at the level of academic discipline, occupation, or mathematical proficiency, rather than assessing potential gender differences in the use of numeracy skills at work. This literature has left open the possibility that women are engaging in quantitative tasks at work as often as men but doing it in careers not typically falling under the umbrella of what is commonly considered ‘STEM.’ Data from the 2012 PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) Survey of Adult Skills allow us, for the first time, to look cross-nationally at gender gaps in the use of numeracy at work” (p.2).

“All data [analyzed in this report] are drawn from the 2012 PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills. The aim of the survey is to measure key cognitive and workplace skills and competencies, including literacy, numeracy, and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. PIAAC collects an array of information, including how these skills are used at work and at home” (p.5).

“One lingering area of inquiry is the extent to which these gender differences in careers are associated with gaps in the use of quantitative skills at work. Previous studies predominantly use college major, occupation, or in some cases mathematical proficiency as their units of analyses. No literature of which [the author is] aware looks at these gaps between men and women at the level of skill usage. Does occupational gender segregation at the level of occupation translate to a gender gap in the performance of quantitative tasks at work?” (p.3).

“[The author uses] the Survey of Adult Skills to address the following questions: Are there significant gaps in the extents to which men and women use numeracy skills at work, and how do these gaps vary cross-nationally? What is the importance of a variety of covariates—including education level, age cohort, and hours worked—to these gendered outcomes?” (p.4).

(Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“The author finds that male workers, overall, are significantly more likely than female workers to be using numeracy skills in their jobs. However, these mean differences in numeracy skill use are not statistically significant within every OECD country or every sub-population of workers. Furthermore, focusing on respondents living in the United States (n=5010), the author finds that men and women who perform large amounts of numeric tasks at their jobs are employed in many of the same job categories. However, even controlling for a variety of covariates, numeracy skill use at work is also stratified in ways that align with historical patterns of occupational gender segregation in the United States. While in some ways these findings are in accordance with previous scholarship about gender and work, in another sense they problematize previous research by revealing the large amounts of numeracy involved in some historically-“female” occupations. They also suggest that the literature on gender and STEM participation should broaden its focus beyond white collar occupations requiring advanced degrees. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for research on gender, numeracy, and work, as well as potential fruitful avenues of inquiry involving the PIAAC dataset” (p.2). (Abstractor: Author)