Youth Skills: Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

Publication Details

This is part of a series of in-depth reports from the Survey of Adult Skills. This report covers key findings on how New Zealand youth (aged 16 to 24) compare internationally and what factors are associated with higher youth skills.

Author(s): Matt Jones, Senior Research Analyst, and Paul Satherley, Principal Research Analyst, for the Ministry of Education

Date Published: July 2017


About the Survey of Adult Skills

The Survey of Adult Skills measures the skills of New Zealand adults aged 16 to 65 in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. In addition to this, detailed information is collected from respondents on their education, employment and occupation, skills and qualifications required for their jobs, the use of skills at work and at home, parents' education and occupation, languages spoken and migration status. The survey has been undertaken in 32 countries, which makes it possible to compare the skills of New Zealanders internationally. Previous surveys make it possible to compare literacy skills in 2014 to 1996 and 2006, and numeracy scores to 2006.

Key Findings

New Zealand youth are in the middle of the OECD

When compared to youth in other OECD countries, New Zealand youth rank:

  • 12th of 28 countries in literacy
  • 18th of 28 countries in numeracy
  • eighth of 25 countries in problem solving.

These rankings are lower than for the total population aged 16 to 65.

Increasing youth reading in everyday life and education participation may increase youth skills

New Zealand youth had a lower participation rate in formal education compared to the top OECD countries. This was also closely related to their literacy scores. This means there is room to improve participation in education compared to other countries, which may result in higher overall skill levels for youth.

New Zealand youth had fewer books in their home compared to the top OECD countries, and were slightly less likely to read books in everyday life. These factors are closely correlated with higher skills. Improving activities of young people in these areas could have an effect on overall skill levels.

Low-skilled youth stayed low skilled as they got older, while some moderately skilled youth may have become high skilled through gaining tertiary qualifications

New Zealand's proportion of youth that were low skilled in both literacy and numeracy was similar to that of Canada, Australia and the United States. Of people aged 16 to 24 in 2006 (and 24 to 32 in 2014), the same proportion had low skills in 2014 as in 2006. A greater proportion of this low-skilled cohort had qualifications in 2014 than in 2006. However, these people showed no evidence of improved skills. Of this youth cohort, a greater proportion may have had high skills in literacy and numeracy in 2014 than in 2006.

Youth who spoke a language other than English at home or had low-qualified parents were more likely to have low skills in literacy and numeracy

A higher proportion of youth who spoke a language other than English at home had low skills in both literacy and numeracy, as did youth whose parents did not have a qualification higher than National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level 1.

Asian youth had similar numeracy skills to NZ European youth, while Māori and Pasifika had lower skills than NZ European and Asian youth

Māori and Pasifika youth had lower literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills than NZ Europeans and Asians. Asian youth had similar scores to NZ Europeans. The difference between Māori youth skills and NZ European youth skills was a similar size to the difference for older age groups.

Average literacy scores of Māori youth appeared to have risen faster than for the total youth population

Average literacy scores for the total youth population appeared to have increased between 2006 and 2014 though not significantly. However, average Māori youth literacy and numeracy scores appeared to increase to a greater extent than the total population – though this was not a significant difference due to small sample sizes. Māori numeracy scores also appeared to increase – though again not significantly – while there was no measurable change in average numeracy scores for the total youth population.

Māori youth increased their skills faster than other ethnic groups as they got older

Comparing the scores of youth in 2006 to the same cohort eight years older (aged 24 to 32) in 2014, Māori literacy and numeracy scores increased to a greater extent than for other ethnic groups. The increases for Asian and Pasifika youth were the smallest.

Youth with more books in the home had higher skills

Having more books in the home was highly correlated with higher literacy, numeracy and problem solving scores. Living in a less deprived area, having parents with higher-skilled occupations and speaking English at home are also correlated with higher skills, but less so than having more books in the home.

Having parents born in New Zealand had very little correlation with higher skills.

Youth who were working and had a Level 4 or higher qualification had the highest skills

Youth in work who had a Level 4 or higher qualification and had finished studying had the highest skills. Youth who were studying had higher average skills than working youth without a post-school qualification and youth who were not in work or education.

Males have higher numeracy scores

Male youth had slightly higher numeracy scores than females, although it was not statistically significant. There was no measurable difference in literacy scores or problem solving scores. In 1996, females had higher slightly higher literacy scores than males, but male literacy scores have increased at a faster rate since then.

Youth are less likely to read books and magazines at home

Youth were slightly less likely than those aged 25 to 44 to read books at home and much less likely to read newspapers and magazines at home. Youth who did read books, newspapers or magazines at least once a week had higher literacy scores than those who did not.

Youth were more likely than those aged 25 to 44 to do some computer activities in their everyday lives, such as using a word processing application or being involved with real-time discussions on the internet. However, they were equally likely to use the internet to understand issues and less likely to conduct transactions on the internet.