Below, view the list of AIR-PIAAC commissioned papers.  The AIR PIAAC commissioned papers, funded through a contract with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, are intended to broaden the base of research through exploration and use of the PIAAC dataset and its analytical tools. 

Table of Contents

2016 Research Papers
2015 Research Papers
2014 Research Papers
2013 Research Papers

2016 Research Papers

Numeracy Skills, Health Information-Seeking, and Preventative Health Behaviors among Middle to Older Aged Adults in the U.S. (Takashi Yamashita, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Anthony R. Bardo, Duke University; and Darren Liu, Des Moines University)

This paper will analyze numeracy skills in the context of health information-seeking and preventative health behaviors to develop a detailed demographic and socioeconomic profile of middle to older aged adults (aged 45 to 74 years) and their numeracy skills using PIAAC data.  Using statistical models to estimate the impacts of numeracy skills on selected health information-seeking and preventative health behaviors, the authors will answer the following research questions:

  • Are there differences in numeracy skills across subgroups of middle to older aged adults by demographic, socioeconomic, and health characteristics?
  • Are numeracy skills associated with the sources from which middle to older aged adults seek health information?
  • Are numeracy skills among middle to older aged adults associated with their adherence to recommended preventative health behaviors?

Explaining Relationships between Numeracy Skills, Soft Skills, and Occupational Status among U.S. Workers (Huacong Liu and Frank Fernandez, Pennsylvania State University)

This paper will use PIAAC data to  examine relationships between numeracy skills, soft skills and  occupational status among adults working in the United States. In the research literature, soft skills have also been called noncognitive skills, personality traits, socialization, and social skills. They are often contrasted with technical skills, which are necessary but not sufficient for workers who wish to move beyond entry-level jobs or who aspire to enter professional fields.  The authors will use measures of soft skills available in this dataset across following four elements: Readiness to Learn, Planning, Influence, and Task Discretion. The authors will answer the question:

  • After controlling for cognitive ability as measured by PIAAC numeracy skills, are soft skills significantly correlated with workers’ occupational status?

Associations between Adults' Numeracy Skills and Employment Status (Leah Katherine Saal, Loyola University Maryland; Melissa Gholson, West Virginia Department of Education; Ryan J. Machtmes, University of Minnesota; and Krisanna I. Machtmes, Ohio University)

This paper will explore the relationship between academic skills/proficiencies and employment status in the United States. Using PIAAC data,  the authors will answer the following questions:

  • Is the relationship between numeracy skills and employment status stronger than the relationship between the other skills measured in PIAAC (literacy and problem solving in technology-rich environments) among U.S. adults? 
  • Is there a relationship between numeracy and employment status by the levels of numeracy-related skills used in everyday life?

Numeracy, Occupational Skills, and Gender: Using PIAAC and O*NET to Assess Gender Pay Gaps and Occupational Gender Segregation (Lisa M. Frehill and Katie Seely-Gant, Energetics Technology Center)

This paper will use data from PIAAC and the Bureau of Labor Statistics O*NET database to examine the relationship between numeracy skills, gendered wage gaps, and occupational gender segregation. The following research questions will be addressed:

  • To what extent are numeracy skills associated with occupational gender segregation and, subsequently, the gender pay gap?
  • To what extent are there correlations between assessed numeracy skills (PIAAC), numeracy requirements (O*NET), and female representation?
  • What are the returns to income associated with these different measures of skills (i.e., PIAAC and O*NET) and the level of female representation in occupations?

An Examination of PIAAC Data for Unemployed Adults aged 45 to 74 (Phyllis A. Cummins, Miami University; and Takashi Yamashita, University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

This paper will focus on middle to older age groups (ages 45 to 74) who are either unemployed or not in the labor force (in comparison to those who are employed). The authors will examine their characteristics to gain a better understanding of health and economic well-being in relation to educational attainment, continuous learning behaviors (a.k.a. lifelong learning), and skill indicators including literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills in the second half of life course, with additional consideration given to the roles skills and technology play in the context of employment status. The following research questions will be addressed:

  • Is there any relationship between health status, education, lifelong learning behaviors, and skill indicators including literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills by employment status?
  • Is there any relationship between the timing of retirement, health status, education, lifelong learning behaviors, and skill indicators including literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills?
  • Is there any difference in use of practical skills including communication technology, computer application, and reading/writing skills among individuals who are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force?
  • How frequently do unemployed and not in the labor force adults participate in Adult Education and Training (AET) programs and what are the reasons for non-participation?


2015 Research Papers

The 2015 AIR PIAAC commissioned papers, funded through a contract with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, are intended to broaden the base of research through exploration and use of the PIAAC dataset and its analytical tools. 

Using the PIAAC Literacy Framework to Guide Instruction: An Introduction for Adult Educators (Amy R. Trawick, Center for Adult Learning Leadership and Advancement)
The purpose of this introductory guide is to describe how adult literacy practitioners--such as teachers, lead instructors, and professional developers--might enhance their efforts with adult developing readers by incorporating relevant tools from PIAAC’s literacy framework to support the goals of WIOA, the CCRS, and adult learners themselves.

View full research paper ›

Using the PIAAC Numeracy Framework to Guide Instruction: An Introduction for Adult Educators (Donna Curry, Center for Adult Numeracy, TERC)
This guide is designed for practitioners, including teachers, lead instructors, and professional developers, who are ready to take up the challenge to change how numeracy is taught in adult education. If instructors shift their teaching to focus more on the use of numeracy skills, they might find that their students not only score better on formal assessments but that they are more effective in using numeracy in their daily lives.

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Using the PIAAC Framework for Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments to Guide Instruction: An Introduction for Adult Educators (Jenifer B. Vanek, University of Minnesota)
This brief is a guide for Adult Education and Literacy practitioners who are ready to teach the PS-TRE. One goal of the guide is to nudge practitioners to reconsider current technology integration in ABE classrooms, adding a cognitive dimension to their technology use instruction. In doing so, teachers can include instructional activities that help learners to not only use technologies, but also develop an understanding of the complex processes required to employ them. Whether teaching in Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE), or English Language Acquisition programs, practitioners can refer to the brief when creating curricular activities that teach how to solve problems or handle day-to-day activities in the digital environment.

View full research paper ›

Examining Gender Differences in the Mathematical Literacy of 15-Year-Olds and the Numeracy Skills of the Age Cohorts as Adults (Alka Arora and Emily Pawlowksi, American Institutes for Research)
Using PIAAC and PISA data, this paper examines the relationship of the mathematics proficiency of fifteen-year-olds to the proficiency of their age cohort as adults. The mathematical literacy performance of fifteen-year-olds in PISA 2003 and the numeracy performance of the relevant age cohort that participated in PIAAC 2012, which assessed adults aged 16 to 65, is compared. After exploring similarities or differences in  the performance of countries on these two assessments, and looking at performance by gender, this study then focuses on factors that may contribute to changes in gender differences over time, such as field of study, occupation, and skill use at work and at home. 

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Education and Work in the 21st Century: Credential Inflation or Transformation? (Frank Fernandez and Mark Umbricht, Pennsylvania State University)
This paper will analyze data from the U.S. PIAAC Main Study, the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL), and the International Adult Literacy Skills Survey (IALS) to test two competing paradigms in educational and social science research: credential inflation (the idea that degrees are becoming more costly and less valuable in the labor market); and educational transformation (the idea that education is not becoming less valuable, but rather that education, skills, and work are evolving in the knowledge economy).

The analysis will be guided by a series of related questions: 

  • Do respondents with similar levels of education tend to have similar levels of employment (and, among those who are employed, similar job duties) over time?
  • Do respondents with similar levels of education tend to work similar numbers of hours per week and have similar earnings over time? 
  • Are education credentials or literacy and numeracy skills better predictors of labor market outcomes over time? View full research paper ›   View Excel file ›

Literacy and Numeracy Skills of Second-Generation Young Adults: A Comparative Study of Canada, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. (Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix, Migration Policy Institute)
This paper will examine the characteristics and competencies of young adults between ages 16 to 34 by immigrant generation--the population that should benefit the most from targeted educational and workforce training programs to improve employment prospects and increase national economic productivity.

Specifically, the authors will analyze the PIAAC data in order to answer the following research questions: 

  • What are the key demographic and social characteristics of young adults (16-34) by generation? How do they vary across countries?
  • How do literacy and numeracy skills of the second-generation young adults (ages 16 to 34) compare to those of the first, immigrant generation?
  • Do the second-generation young adults in Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom catch up with the third generation as in the United States? View full research paper ›

Literacy and Fertility Across OECD Nations (Jane Seymour, Rosemary Frasso, and Ian Bennett, University of Pennsylvania)
Demographic, public health, and medical research indicate that total parity—that is, the number of children born to each woman—is associated with individual and population health, as well as national economic health. The health and educational impacts of the number of children born per woman are particularly important to consider as developed countries, including the United States, propose changes to parental policies, which encourage childbirth. 

This paper will offer insight into the degree to which literacy can mediate the effects of age and other sociodemographic factors on parity across the countries participating in PIAAC. It will also offer insight into the role of literacy in the relationship between race/ethnicity and parity in the United States. View full research paper ›

Reconstructing the Evolution of the American Supply of Cognitive Skills: A Synthetic Cohort Analysis (Marilyn Binkley and T. Scott Murray, DataAngel Policy Research; Richard Shillington, Tristat Resources)
Changes in average literacy scores of adult populations and population subgroups are the product of the net impact of significant skill gain and skill loss. By conducting a synthetic cohort analysis with data from the PIAAC Main Study, the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL), and the International Adult Literacy Skills Survey (IALS), we reconstruct an approximation individual skill trajectories over time. These data allow for a comparison of differences in the distribution of skill gain and loss in population sub-groups. The data also provide a means to explore the factors that are associated with skill gain and loss, including characteristics of the jobs held. Because skill has a significant impact on labor market, social, health and education outcomes at both the individual and macro levels, there is a strong policy interest in understanding the social and economic processes that underlie skill gain and loss. View full research paper ›

Persisting Gaps: Labor Market Outcomes and Numeracy Skill Levels of First Generation and Multi Generation College Graduates (Karly Sarita Ford and Mark Richard Umbricht, Pennsylvania State University)
This paper will use the PIAAC data to focus on economic mobility in the United States and the relationship between social origins, education, individual skills, and occupational destinations.

It is widely believed that a college degree erases any social advantage or disadvantage an individual had as a child. Many scholars have tested this relationship—in the United States and abroad—using nationally representative datasets. However, few have been able to assess this relationship while taking into account individual cognitive skills, defined in the paper as numeracy skills. PIAAC provides researchers with the unique opportunity to analyze the relationship between individual numeracy skill levels and education credentials and social mobility. 

Specifically, the authors will investigate the following questions:

  • Is there a difference in numeracy scores between first-generation college graduates and multi-generation college graduates? In other words, are the advantages of having highly educated parents associated with educational attainment and cognitive skills in adulthood?
  • Is college graduate generational status related to employment outcomes after controlling for numeracy score? Or, are the advantages of having highly educated parents associated with employment outcomes in adulthood?

View full research paper    View Excel file ›

Earnings and Employment Benefits of Adult Higher Education in Comparative Perspective: Evidence Based on the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) (Richard Desjardins, University of California Los Angeles)
This paper seeks to examine comparatively across OECD countries the earnings and labor force status differentials of adults who completed their higher education (HE) degree at older ages than the normative age of graduation. Statistical differentials in labor market outcomes such as earnings are compared between adults who completed their highest qualification before or after the normative age. Results reveal comparative policy insights, for example, regarding the potential effects of HE institutions that open up their doors to non-traditional students.

The paper will build on the work carried out by Margaret Becker Patterson and Usha Paulson who made use of the PIAAC data to study post-secondary transitions of adult in the US (paper entitled Adult Transitions to Learning in the USA: What do PIAAC survey results tell us?). Those authors had focused exclusively on US data. In contrast, this paper will be based on comparative analysis of data to draw out policy insights for the US case. Moreover, the analysis of the labor market outcomes will be much more detailed and linked to the existing international literature on this topic.

The proposed research will address the following questions: 

  • What is the incidence of adult higher education in comparative perspective?
  • Who participates in adult higher education in comparative perspective?
  • What does research say about the higher education outcomes for non-traditional students compared to traditional students?
  • What are the comparative earnings differentials of traditional vs non-traditional students using PIAAC data?
  • What are the comparative employment differentials of traditional vs non-traditional students using PIAAC data?
  • What is the link between the openness of HE systems to non-traditional students and the overall employment rate?
  • What is the link between the openness of HE systems to non-traditional students and cross-country skill profiles? View full research paper ›

2014 Research Papers

The 2014 AIR PIAAC commissioned papers, funded through a contract with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), are intended to broaden the base of research based on exploration and use of the PIAAC dataset and its analytical tools. 

Adults’ Learning Strategies, Uses, and Literacy Proficiencies (M Cecil Smith, West Virginia University; Amy Rose, Northern Illinois University; Jovita Ross-Gordon, Texas State University; Thomas J. Smith, Northern IIlinois University) looks at PIAAC’s “readiness to learn” index in a U.S. context and examine the extent to which it is related to skill levels in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) and whether it mediates the effects of demographic and socio-economic factors on skill levels. The paper also examines whether the relationships among readiness to learn, skill levels, and skill use vary by selected demographic factors, such as gender, age, work experience, and education, and examines whether the index is correlated with the U.S. adults’ participation in learning activities, such as open/distance education and on-the-job training. View full research paper ›

Gender and Numerical Skill Use: Cross-National Revelations from PIAAC (Danielle Lindemann, Rutgers University) seeks to understand whether there are significant gaps in the extent to which men and women use numerical skills at work; what the importance of a variety of covariates including education level, age cohort, job title, and country of residence are to these gendered outcomes; and what relationship, if any, there is between gender disparity in deployment of numerical skills and gender disparity in earnings. It also seeks to assess the relationship between gender, type of occupation, and use of numeracy. View full research paper ›

Revisiting the effects of skills on inequality: Within- and cross-country comparisons using PIAAC (Anita Alves Pena, Colorado State University) By conducting analysis on PIAAC data, this study adds to the existing literature on the relationship between wage inequality and the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of adults in an international context. The analysis includes both individual-level and country-level data from PIAAC and supplemental sources and takes into account both demographic and educational institution differences within and across participating countries in order to explore the effects of education and training opportunities on wage inequality across groups of people. View full research paper ›

A Comparative Study of Immigrant and Native Employees in the United States and Canada (William Smith and Frank Fernandez, Penn State University) examines whether, after matching on occupation, there are wage differences between native citizens and immigrants with similar skills, cognitive abilities, and education levels. The U.S. and Canada comparison is important, given that the United States and Canada receive more than half of all OECD immigrants and two-thirds of the OECD immigrants who have attended tertiary institutions. The research specifically examines whether there are differences in the educational attainment of immigrants in the United States and Canada, how immigrants differ from natives in terms of educational attainment, cognitive abilities, and technological skills, and examines whether the factors that influence wage disparities differ between countries. View full research paper ›

Cognitive and non-cognitive factors that affect how people seek health information (Iris Feinberg and Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State University; Jan C. Frijters, Brock University) aims to shed more light on the complex and interactive relationship between health, literacy, and health-information seeking. The research explores whether there is a relationship between SES factors, English literacy skills, and the sources people use to seek health information (i.e., Internet, television, family members or friends). It also looks at whether people with different health status and preventive health practices seek health information in different ways, and if so, what role literacy levels play. View full research paper ›

Examining Associations between Adult Health and Literacy, Numeracy, Technological Problem-Solving Skills, and Post-Initial Learning in the U.S. (Shannon Monnat, Esther Prins, Carol Clymer, Blaire Toso, Penn State University) examines how U.S. respondents’ health outcomes are shaped by literacy, numeracy, and information and communication technology (ICT) skills, and how this varies by race/ethnicity and educational attainment. In addition, the project identifies which types of post-initial education (a) have the strongest association with health and (b) matter the most for the health outcomes of different racial/ethnic groups and individuals with different levels of educational attainment. View full research paper ›

An Analysis of Adult Education and Training of Older Age Adults (Phyllis Cummins, Ryan Walker, and Suzanne Kunkel, Miami University, Scripps Gerontology Center) examines outcomes for adults in the U.S. and several other countries, including Japan, Sweden, and Germany, who participated in varying levels of adult education and training (AET). The research examines what types and intensities of AET relate to labor force participation, employment, and income, as well as how these outcomes vary by selected demographic factors, such as age group, gender, educational attainment. In addition, this study reviews policies and practices for AET in the countries included in this research. View full research paper › 

2013 Research Papers

In 2013, the American Institutes for Research, through a contract with the National Center for Education Statistics, commissioned four white papers on the following topics:

Adult Transitions to Learning in the USA: What Do PIAAC Survey Results Tell Us? (Margaret Patterson and Usha Paulson, Research Allies for Lifelong Learning)
This paper uses PIAAC data to examine U.S. adult transitions into post-secondary education and training. The paper compares data on post-secondary education and training participation reported in PIAAC for traditional vs. non-traditional students. Traditional students are defined as those who have graduated from high school and attended or graduated from college in the 16-24 age range. Non-traditional students are those who did not complete high school but attended college, regardless of age; or those who are 25-65 years of age and indicated attending or graduating from college at age 25 or older. The paper examines their motivations and hindrances for further formal and informal training, as well as their PIAAC skill levels and current earnings. Along with the PIAAC data, the paper uses nationwide data available through other sources to provide a richer picture of the educational transitions opportunities available for Americans today. View full research paper ›

Digital Inclusion and Digital Literacy in the United States: A Portrait from PIAAC (Stephen Reder, Portland State University)
This paper uses PIAAC data to explore the various pathways and background characteristics that lead towards digital inclusion and digital literacy. It also examines the ways in which problem-solving in technology-rich environments is related to other skills and activities of Americans. Building on the reported low performance levels of the adults in the United States compared to their international peers, it examines the conditions and pre-conditions which limit skill development opportunities in such a technologically-rich environment as the United States. In the process of exploring these topics, the paper develops indicators of digital inclusion and digital literacy based on the data available in PIAAC and other closely related data sets. View full research paper  ›

What Does PIAAC Data Tell Us About Immigrants in the United States? (Michael Fix and Jeanne Batalova, Migration Policy Institute)
This paper uses PIAAC data to examine immigration and social and economic integration of immigrants into various aspects of life in the United States. Comprising less than a sixth of the total population, the American Community Survey reported foreign-born adults as more likely to be in the labor force than the native-born population. At the same time, the foreign-born are reported to have both lower educational attainment and lower performance on direct assessments of competencies, such as PIAAC, than native-born adults. This suggests that while immigrants are being integrated in some aspects, they are being excluded in other very important aspects of U.S. life. This paper integrates PIAAC data with data available through other sources to provide a rich picture of the level of participation of foreign-born adults in United States. It examines indicators of immigrant integration using PIAAC data and explores the education and other characteristics that are associated with greater integration of this segment of the population.  View full research paper › 

Skills Proficiency and Job Market Outcomes in the United States: Evidence from PIAAC (Harry Holzer, Georgetown University and AIR; and Robert Lerman, American University and Urban Institute)
This paper extends the analysis of the relationship between skills proficiency and labor market outcomes well beyond the findings in the OECD report on the United States.  Among the questions it examines are the following:

1) How do proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving vary between and within demographic, education and occupational groups?  For which subgroups is the lack of basic skills proficiency most pronounced? Do we find skill shortfalls in one of the three areas even for native-born groups with postsecondary credentials or in middle-skill occupations?  

2) Do weak skill proficiencies significantly limit the ability of workers from obtaining middle-skill credentials and jobs or do those holding such jobs vary widely in their proficiencies?

3) To what extent are earnings differentials related to differentials in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving levels, even within occupations that do and do not require some postsecondary credentials?  

4) To what extent does skill proficiency correlate with worker perceptions of the skill demands of jobs? How do differentials in skill use on the job differ from measures of proficiency?  How do these relationships vary across occupations?

The answers to these questions highlight key facts and relationships and suggest subsequent analyses of the U.S. PIAAC micro data. View full research paper ›