low literacy and numeracy among German adults


Low literacy (“functional illiteracy”) and numeracy – that is, difficulties in using mathematics – in adulthood often lead to considerable limitations in the lives of those affected.

To respond to this challenge of low literacy/numeracy, targeted education policy and pedagogical measures are necessary. To achieve this goal, extensive knowledge about the causes of low literacy/numeracy is essential. Unfortunately, no such extensive knowledge exists based on available research, especially regarding the factors causing low literacy/numeracy. The main reason for this is the general lack of longitudinal data. Both in Germany and the rest of the world, extant research is mostly based on studies seeking to analyze the phenomenon with a single instance of data gathering. They are hardly suited to research how low literacy/numeracy emerge – and under what circumstances they can be changed over time.

This cooperation project wanted to identify risk and protective factors for the development and change of low literacy and numeracy in German adults. With the help of data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), two main questions regarding low literacy/numeracy in German adults have been answered:

  1. Changeability: How stable are low literacy/numeracy and how changeable are they? How many people are successful in acquiring competencies over time and thus leave the domain of low literacy/numeracy? How many people slip into this domain over time?
  2. Complex causes: Which individual (e.g., cognitive and non-cognitive basic skills), structural and contextual factors (e.g., employment, family formation) influence the probability of such growths or losses in competencies?

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Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)


11/2017 - 10/2020

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