LONDON — Do you go straight to the calculator whenever a problem involves numbers? You’re not alone. A new poll finds one-third of adults say that doing math gives them anxiety. One in five are so fearful it even makes them feel physically sick!
The study of 3,000 adults in the United Kingdom found numeracy gives many feelings of fear or unease, while almost a third (29%) say they actively try to avoid anything to do with numbers and data. For 32 percent, the cost-of-living crisis in the U.K. has placed greater pressure on their math skills, and of those with low number confidence, the same percentage say it affects their mental wellness.
More than half the poll (52%) admit they stopped studying math while in school as soon as they were able to, however a third (34%) have taken steps to improve their skills since graduating.
Two in three (66%) agree that you don’t realize how important math skills are until you’re older and using them to navigate daily life. Another 69 percent backed the notion the U.K. in particular needs to take additional measures to address the issue of low math confidence, and over half (51%) acknowledge there’s been a greater emphasis on improving numeracy skills in recent years.
The research was commissioned by professional services firm KPMG UK, in collaboration with the charity National Numeracy.
“Confidence with numbers isn’t reserved for mathematicians, it’s an essential skill helping us navigate daily life – from understanding interest rates to working out value for money while shopping,” says Bina Mehta, chair at KPMG in the UK, in a statement.
“Those lacking confidence in their numeracy skills are more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud. As our research highlights, the impact on well-being can’t be underestimated, especially against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis.”
“Math is far more than a classroom subject, it’s a skill like any other, and it can be improved at any age. As two-thirds of our respondents suggested, you don’t always realize how important these skills are until you’re older,” Mehta continues.
“If we want to build a more prosperous and fair economy, we all have a duty – as individuals, businesses, policy makers and education leaders – to ensure numeracy skills get the attention they deserve.”
Over a third (35%) claim they would avoid taking a job if it mentioned having to deal with numbers and data, while a fifth believe their lack of confidence has affected career choices and impacted their earnings, according to the OnePoll data.
The cost-of-living crisis in the U.K. has made it easier for many Brits (26%) to talk more openly about their math skills and 28 percent want to improve their skills, but don’t know where to start.
“Focusing on exams and courses alone won’t work for the millions who hated math at school – we know a bad experience at school is linked to lower number confidence and attainment,” adds Sam Sims, chief executive at National Numeracy.
“Math is a mental wellness issue, as this survey shows. We need to get better at acknowledging and supporting those who struggle with numbers – it has very real effects on their lives and livelihoods, which the cost-of-living crisis has highlighted.”
Adults are hopeless with homework too!
In 2021, another survey found more than half of parents (56%) say they feel hopeless when trying to help their children with homework. Two-thirds of parents will even turn to Google to figure out how to help their child finish their assignment.
Although 79 percent of parents can recall the things they learned in school, nearly as many (70%) say it’s harder for them to solve their kid’s math homework today. Barely half (51%) of the poll recall the proper order of math operations (PEMDAS) — or Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division (from left to right), Addition and Subtraction (from left to right).
According to a 2020 poll, U.S. parents these days have the math and science skills of an 11-year-old. Respondents were asked what grade they would be placed in today if they had to take a placement test, and the average answer was sixth grade for both math and science.
In all, 42 percent say they would be “lost” trying to teach their child mathematics. Another 35 percent express the same sentiment regarding scientific topics. Moreover, math (49%) and science (31%) are among the top subjects listed by parents when asked what topics their kids struggle with today.
South West News Service writer Steve Richmond contributed to this report.