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The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey: Age and Literacy

Publication Details

This report is the fourth in a series of four that investigate the initial results of the ALL survey. It presents an overview of New Zealanders’ skills in relation to age, and any changes since 1996.

Author(s): Paul Satherley and Elliot Lawes, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: August 2008

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report. This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads/Links' inset box, top right).
Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

Age

The ALL survey directly measured four skill domains: prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. This section examines this question:

  • How did the distributions of literacy skills for different age groups change between 1996 and 2006?

Age

Figure 1: Distribution of age, IALS and ALL
Figure 2.1: Distribution of age, IALS and ALL
Note:

  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Figure 1 shows the percentage distribution of the 16−65-year-old population in the IALS and ALL surveys. These percentages (and changes in percentage) are consistent with those recorded in the censuses of 1996 and 2006. They show a population with a growing subpopulation of those aged 45 or older.

Prose literacy and age

Prose literacy is the ability to read and understand continuous texts (such as news stories, editorials, brochures and instruction manuals). Prose literacy skill was measured by both the IALS and ALL surveys, and its distribution among various age groups of New Zealand is shown in Figure 2.

In both 1996 and 2006, the prose literacy skills of 25−54-year-olds were higher than those of 16−24-year-olds and of 55−65-year-olds.  The prose literacy skills of 25−65-year-olds in 2006 improved or were stable when compared with the 25−65-year-olds of 1996.  However, the prose literacy skills of the 16−24-year-olds of 2006 declined compared with their counterparts in 1996.


Figure 2: Prose literacy and age, IALS and ALL
Figure 2.2: Prose literacy and age, IALS and ALL
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Figure 2 shows that the overall prose literacy skills of 25−34-year-olds, 45−54-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds rose substantially, whereas those of 35−44-year-olds remained relatively stable and those of 16−24-year-olds fell substantially. Figure 2 also shows the following.

  • For 16−24-year-olds the percentage at level 4 or 5 fell substantially, and the percentage at level 1 also reduced. The percentage at level 3 remained stable while that at level 2 increased substantially.
  • For 25−34-year-olds and for 45−54-year-olds the percentages at level 1 fell (for 45−54-year-olds this fall was substantial), the percentages at levels 2 and 4 or 5 remained relatively stable, and the percentages at level 3 rose substantially.
  • For 35−44-year-olds the percentages at levels 4 or 5 fell substantially and the percentages at levels 2 and 3 rose (and at level 3 this rise was substantial). The percentage at level 1 reduced substantially.
  • For 55−65-year-olds the percentages at levels 1 and 2 fell (and at level 1 this fall was substantial), the percentage at level 3 rose substantially and the percentage at level 4 or 5 remained relatively stable.

Figure 3: Distribution of age by prose literacy skill level, ALL onlyFigure 2.3: Distribution of age by prose literacy skill level, ALL only
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

When compared with the population distribution of Figure 1, Figure 3 shows that 16−24-year-olds were over-represented among those with level 2 prose literacy skills and under-represented among those with level 4 or 5. These figures also show that 45−54-year-olds were under-represented among those with level 1 prose literacy skills and over-represented among those at level 4 or 5.

Document literacy and age

Document literacy is the ability to read and understand discontinuous texts (such as charts, maps, tables, job applications, payroll forms and timetables). Document literacy skill was measured by both the IALS and ALL surveys, and its distribution among the various age groups of New Zealand is shown in Figure 4.

In both 1996 and 2006, document literacy skills of 25−54-year-olds were higher than those of 16−24-year-olds and of 55−65-year-olds.  Document literacy skills of 25−65–year-olds in 2006 improved when compared with the 25−65-year-olds of 1996.  However, document literacy skills of the 16−24-year-olds of 2006 did not improve compared with their counterparts in 1996.


Figure 4: Document literacy and age, IALS and ALL

Figure 2.4: Document literacy and age, IALS and ALL
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Figure 4 shows that the overall document literacy skills of 16−24-year-olds fell slightly but that those of all other age groups rose substantially. Figure 4 also shows the following.

  • For 16−24-year-olds the percentage at levels 4 or 5 fell (and the fall was substantial). The percentages at levels 2 and 3 rose (and the rise at level 2 was substantial), while the percentage at level 1 fell.
  • For 25−34-year-olds, 45−54-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds, the percentages with level 1 document literacy skills fell substantially, the percentages with level 2 fell (except for 55−65-year-olds, where it was relatively stable), the percentages with level 3 rose (and for 45−54-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds this was substantial), and the percentages with level 4 or 5 document literacy skills rose substantially
  • For 35−44-year-olds the percentage with document literacy skills at level 1 fell substantially, the percentage at level 2 remained relatively stable, and the percentages at level 3 and 4 or 5 rose.

Figure 5: Distribution of age by document literacy skill level, ALL onlyFigure 2.5: Distribution of age by document literacy skill level, ALL only
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

When compared with Figure 1, Figure 5 shows that 16−24-year-olds were over-represented among those with level 2 document literacy skills and under-represented among those with level 4 or 5. These figures also show that 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds were over-represented among those with level 4 or 5 document literacy skills (and that 25–34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds were under-represented among those with level 1). Also, 55−65-year-olds were over-represented among those with level 1 document literacy skills and under-represented among those with level 4 or 5.

Numeracy and age

Numeracy is the ability to read and process mathematical and numeric information in diverse situations. Numeracy skill was measured in the ALL survey only, and its distribution among various age groups of New Zealand is shown in Figure 6.

In 2006 the numeracy skills of 25−54-year-olds were higher than those of 16−24-year-olds and of 55−65-year-olds.


Figure 6: Numeracy and age, ALL only
Figure 2.6: Numeracy and age, ALL only
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Figure 6 shows that 16−24-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds had the lowest overall numeracy skills. Their smallest percentages were at level 4 or 5 (around 12%), followed by those at level 1 (around 23%) and level 3 (around 30%), and their largest percentages were at level 2 (around 34%). The figure also shows that 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds had comparatively higher overall numeracy skills. Their smallest percentages were at level 1 (around 19% and 16% respectively), followed by those at level 4 or 5 (around 21%), level 2 (around 28%), and their largest percentages were at level 3 (around 32 and 35% respectively). Finally, 45−54-year-olds, who also had comparatively higher overall numeracy skills, had their smallest percentage at level 4 or 5 (around 17%), followed by that at level 1 (around 19%), and level 2 (around 30%), and had their largest percentage at level 3 (around 34%).


Figure 7: Distribution of age by numeracy skill level, ALL only
pubs-29947-fig7
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

When compared with Figure 1, Figure 7 shows that 16−24-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds were under-represented at numeracy skill levels 4 or 5, and that 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year olds were over-represented at the same levels. Also, 35−44-year-olds were under-represented at numeracy skill level 1.

Problem-solving and age

Problem-solving is the ability to reason and think analytically in situations where no routine procedure exists. Problem-solving skill was measured in the ALL survey only, and its distribution among various age groups of New Zealand is shown in Figure 8.

In 2006 problem-solving skills of 25−54-year-olds were higher than those of 16−24-year-olds and of 55−65-year-olds.


Figure 8: Problem-solving and age, ALL only
Figure 2.8: Problem-solving and age, ALL only
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Figure 8 shows that 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds had the highest overall problem-solving skills, and that 16−24-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds had the lowest. Figure 2.8 also shows that 16−24-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds had similar distributions of problem-solving skill: their smallest percentages were at level 4 (around 3%), followed by those at level 3 (around 23%) and level 1 (around 32%), and their largest percentages were at level 2 (42 and 39% respectively). Similarly, 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds had similar distributions of problem-solving skill: their smallest percentages were at level 4 (around 8%), followed by those at level 1 (around 27%) and level 3 (around 29%), and their largest percentages were at level 2 (around 35%). Finally, 45−54-year-olds had their smallest percentage at level 4 (around 6%), followed by that at level 3 (around 26%), and level 1 (around 28%), and their largest percentage was at level 2 (around 40%).


Figure 9: Distribution of age by problem-solving skill level, ALL only
Figure 2.9: Distribution of age by problem-solving skill level, ALL only
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

When compared with Figure 1, Figure 9 shows that 16−24-year-olds and 55−65-year-olds are under-represented among those with level 4 problem-solving skills and that 25−34-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds are over-represented at that level.

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