In Brief

One in three English adults stumped by everyday maths

England and Northern Ireland rank near bottom in global financial literacy test, above only Turkey, Russia, Czech Republic and Israel

One in three adults in English and Northern Irish struggle with simple maths such as calculating change from a purchase, according to a new study.

Researchers at Cambridge University and University College London (UCL) analysed the results of an international survey of nearly 9,000 adults from 31 countries that included four questions designed to test financial literacy, reports Your Money.

In one question, respondents were asked: “If a litre of cola costs $3.15, how much will you pay for a third of a litre?”

One in four English and Northern Irish respondents floundered when asked to calculate the cost of a specific percentage of a product, while a third could not work out the correct amount of change owed in shopping scenarios.

England and Northern Ireland were among the worst-performing nations in the 2011 Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) test, coming 27th out of 31. Only Turkey, Russia, the Czech Republic and Israel scored lower.

At the other end of the scale, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were ranked top for financial literacy, followed by Lithuania, Austria and Finland.

Study co-author Professor John Jerrim, of the UCL Institute of Education, told The Independent that the questions in the survey weren’t “rocket science”.

“They are fairly basic, but a substantial number of people don’t seem to be able to answer them correctly,” he said.

England and Northern Ireland’s poor performance spoke not only of inadequate financial education in schools, but also increasing reliance on electronic payment methods, added Jerrim. He also pointed to the persistent “cultural view” that some people are simply “not good at numbers”.

Experts say widespread financial illiteracy in the everyday maths of grocery shopping raises broader concerns about people’s ability to handle larger financial decisions.

“It’s particularly worrying considering the low interest rate at the moment - people are buying houses they can’t afford if interest rates go up,” Jerrim noted.

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