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' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 4: Age Cohorts

This section examines this and similar questions.

  • How did the prose literacy skills of various age cohorts change in the decade after 1996?

Prose and document literacy are singled out for analysis in this section because they are the domains that allow cohort analysis (since they were part of both the IALS and the ALL surveys).

The progress of an age cohort over the decade beginning 1996 is measured by comparing those in a certain age group in IALS (in 1996) with those in an age group 10 years older in ALL (in 2006). The IALS and ALL surveys are not truly longitudinal in design, which would require the same respondents to be re-interviewed over time. However, the cohort analyses in this section provide valid measures of change over time in the populations the two surveys represent. The age groups analysed in this section are the cohorts aged 16−54 years in IALS, which became the cohorts aged 25−65 years in ALL. 

Prose literacy and age cohorts

Prose literacy skill was measured by both the IALS and ALL surveys, and its distribution among age cohorts in the New Zealand adult population is shown in Figure 10.

The age cohorts that were 25−54 years old in 2006 improved in prose literacy skill relative to their 16−45-year-old counterparts in 1996.
Figure 10: Prose literacy and age cohorts, IALS and ALLFigure 3.1 Prose literacy and age cohorts, IALS and ALL
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 10 shows that the cohort aged 35−44 years in 2006 made the greatest overall gains in prose literacy skill since 1996.  Figure 10 also shows that:

  • for all age cohorts there were substantial increases in the percentages at level 3, while the percentages at level 2 were relatively stable
  • the percentages at level 1 decreased for those aged 25−34 in 2006, decreased substantially for those aged  35−44 or 45−54, and remained relatively stable for those aged 55−65
  • the percentages at level 4 or 5 decreased for those aged 25−34 or 45−54 in 2006, remained relatively stable for those aged 35−44 and decreased substantially for those aged 55−65.

Document literacy and age cohorts

Document literacy skill was measured by both the IALS and ALL surveys, and its distribution among age cohorts in the New Zealand adult population is shown in Figure 11.

Age cohorts in 2006 improved in document literacy skill from 1996.  The improvement in skills of 1996's 16−24-year-olds in 2006 may indicate that the skills of 2006's 16−24-year-olds will increase in the coming years.
Figure 11: Document literacy and age cohorts, IALS and ALLFigure 3.2 Document literacy and age cohorts, IALS and ALL
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 11 shows that, as with prose literacy, the cohort aged 35−44 years in 2006 made the greatest overall gains in document literacy skill since 1996. Figure 11 also shows that:

  • for all age cohorts there were increases in the percentages at level 3, and for those aged  35−44 or 45−54 in 2006 these increases were substantial
  • for all age cohorts the percentages at level 2 were relatively stable
  • for all age cohorts there were decreases in the percentages at level 1, and for those aged  35−44 or 45−54 in 2006 these decreases were substantial
  • the percentages at level 4 or 5 increased for those aged 25−34 or 35−44 in 2006 and remained relatively stable for those aged 45−54 or 55−65 in 2006.
    • Do the differences in the distributions of literacy skill between men and women change with age?
    • Are the relationships between skill-level, age and gender the same for different skills?

Prose literacy, age and gender

The distributions of prose literacy skill by age group and gender are shown in Figure 12.

On average, women have higher prose literacy skills than men over all age groups.
Figure 12: Prose literacy, age and gender, ALL onlypubID-29946-fig12
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 12 shows that for all age groups (except 55−65-year-olds), women had higher overall prose literacy skills than men (and for 16−24-year-olds and 35−44-year-olds these skills were substantially higher). Among 55−65-year-olds, women and men had approximately the same overall prose literacy skills.

Figure 12 also shows that the differences in overall prose literacy skill between men and women result from, in most age groups, women having larger percentages at level 3 than men, and smaller percentages at level 1.

Document literacy, age and gender

The distributions of document literacy skill by age group and gender are shown in Figure 13.

On average, men and women have similar document literacy over all ages, with 16−24-year-old women performing slightly better than men, and 45−65-year-old men performing slightly better than women.
Figure 13: Document literacy, age and gender, ALL onlypubID-29946-fig13
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 13 shows that among 16−24-year-olds, women had substantially higher overall document literacy skills than men; among 25−34 and 35−44-year-olds women and men had approximately the same document literacy skills; and among 45−54 and 55−65 year-olds men had substantially higher document literacy skills than women.

Numeracy, age and gender

The distributions of numeracy skill by age group and gender are shown in Figure 14.

On average, men perform better than women in numeracy skills over all age groups. 
Figure 14: Numeracy, age and gender, ALL onlypubID-29946-fig14
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 14 shows that for all age groups men had substantially higher overall numeracy skills than women. Across all age groups, this results from men having substantially higher percentages at level 4 or 5, and for 25−65-year-olds lower percentages at level 1. For all age groups (except 55−65-year-olds), men and women had roughly the same percentages at level 3; among 55−65-year-olds the percentage of men at level 3 was substantially higher than that of women.

Problem-solving, age and gender

The distributions of problem-solving skill by age group and gender are shown in Figure 15.

On average, the performance of men and women is very similar in problem-solving skills over all ages.
Figure 15: Problem-solving, age and gender, ALL onlypubID-29946-fig15
Note:
  1. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Figure 15 shows that in contrast with the other skill domains, only among 55−65-year-olds was there a difference in overall problem-solving skill between the genders (where men had higher skills than women).