PIAAC Thematic Reports, Working Papers and other publications

Other publications and working papers


Beyond Proficiency - Using Log files to understand respondent behaviour in the Survey of Adult Skills

Computer-based administration of large-scale assessments makes it possible to collect a rich set of information on test takers, through analysis of the log files recording interactions between the computer interface and the server. This report examines timing and engagement indicators from the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), both of which indicate large differences across countries and socio-demographic groups, in the amount of time spent by respondents and their levels of disengagement, which reduce the probability of giving a correct answer and consequently reduces measured performance. Such insights can help policy makers, researchers and educators to better understand respondents’ cognitive strategies and the underlying causes of low and high performance. This, in turn, can help improve the design of assessments and lead to more effective training and learning programmes.

Adult Skills in Focus n°10:
How much time do adults spend on the PIAAC assessment and why does it matter?
Temps consacré par les adultes à l’évaluation PIAAC et importance de cette donnée

» Read the blog: "How computer-based tests are enriching education research

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Review of the PIAAC Numeracy Assessment Framework: Final Report (by ACER)

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is an international assessment of the proficiency of adults (aged 16-65 years) in key information processing skills (reading, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments). The Survey of Adult Skills has revealed that a considerable number of adults in OECD countries possess only limited literacy and numeracy skills. The OECD is currently reviewing the content of the frameworks and cognitive assessment instruments for the 2nd cycle of PIAAC ready for delivery in 2021-22.

This report is the result of a review of the numeracy construct and assessment in PIAAC. It recommends a range of areas for potential improvements and enhancements, including of the definition and elaborations of adult numeracy used in the framework, and the assessment content. Many of the suggestions arise out of the concern that the existing framework and assessment do not reflect some of the realities of the skills and knowledge adults now need to succeed in work, life and citizenship in the 21st century.

The report also recommends the development of a PIAAC numeracy components assessment, which would have parallel aims to the existing reading components assessment, and provide insights into the skills and knowledge of the significant number of adults with low levels of numeracy.



Literacy Skills and Family Configurations (EDU Working Papers No. 192) 

We study the links between family configuration and formation on the one hand and adult literacy skills on the other by analysing data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a survey of 250 000 people aged 16 to 65 conducted by the OECD in 33 countries and economies. Literacy proficiency has an effect on many aspects of the formation and development of families, such as age of parents at birth of first child, or age of partners at cohabitation, even when educational attainment and age are taken into account. Moreover, having children and living with a partner have consequences for adults’ job opportunities and participation in the labour market, which can be particularly negative for the women with the highest literacy proficiency.

Adult Skills in Focus n°9: 
Teenage parenthood: how does it relate to proficiency in literacy? 
Devenir parent à l’adolescence : Quels liens avec le niveau de compétence en littératie ?

» Read the blog: "What is the relationship between literacy and single-parent families?" by Nicolas Jonas

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Interviewers, Test-taking Conditions and the Quality of the PIAAC Assessment (Education Working Papers, No. 191)

This paper explores the impact of test-taking conditions on the quality of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) assessment. Interviewers record information about the room of assessment and interruptions that occurred during each interview. These observations, along with information on interviewer assignment size and a careful look at interviewer effects, provide insights into the quality of the assessment. This working paper first describes the variations in test-taking conditions among participating countries. Second, it examines interviewer assignment sizes and the frequency of interruptions, finding that both vary markedly among countries (contrary to the room of assessment). The paper then looks at the relationship between these variations and response rates and engagement measures. While neither the room of assessment nor the recorded interruptions impact quality differences among countries, interviewer assignment size and interviewer effects may have a mild impact on results.

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 US Prison Study based on PIAAC data

Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults: Their Skills, Work Experience, Education, and Training

On February 22nd, the American Institutes for Research hosted a presentation and discussion on a recently released report using data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This report provided information on skills and competencies of the incarcerated adults, comparing to that of adults in U.S. households. The report also reported on the extent of inmates’ participation in formal education, empowerment classes (such as parenting or personal finance management), and job training programs.


Skills on the Move: Migrants in the Survey of Adult Skills 

Migration has been at the centre of political debate across the OECD in recent years. This report provides new evidence based on PIAAC data on differences in migrants’ characteristics and considers how these relate to the skills migrants possess. It also examines the relationship between migrants’ skills and their labour and non-labour market outcomes in host countries. Finally, it sheds new light on how migrants’ skills are developed, used and valued in host country labour markets and societies.

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 Small Area Estimation Research (by Westat)

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) sample is designed to produce internationally comparable and nationally representative direct estimates (based solely on survey data) with adequate levels of precision for the nations as a whole and for major population subgroups. However, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and several of the participating countries in Cycle 1 of PIAAC, have expressed interest in using PIAAC data to create proficiency estimates for local areas where PIAAC sample size is too small (or equal to zero) to produce any direct estimates. Small area estimation (SAE) methods facilitate the estimation of the proficiency distribution in subpopulations not initially targeted in large scale surveys. This paper summarizes the research results from applying SAE methods using PIAAC data from five countries that participated in Cycle 1, with various core national sample designs.



Numeracy Practices and Numeracy Skills among Adults (Education Working Papers, No. 177)

We assess the relationship between numeracy skills and numeracy practices among adults in everyday life and at work from the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), an international survey of about 250 000 adults aged 16-65 years old conducted by the OECD in 33 countries/economies. The level of proficiency and the intensity of engagement in numeracy practices are two embedded aspects of numeracy. Proficient adults use numeracy frequently and adults who regularly engage in numeracy practices improve their performance. Individual and contextual factors influence, in different ways across countries, the strength of these links. The intensity of the use of numeracy in everyday life decreases as the lapse of time since a person’s studies increases. Moreover, employed people engage in mathematical activities less in the private setting if they do not do so intensively in the workplace.

Adult Skills in Focus n°8: 
Students’ numeracy skills and practices
Les compétences et les pratiques en numératie des étudiants

» Read the blog:"Being good at maths could be good for your health" by Nicolas Jonas.

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PIAAC Bibliography - 2008-2017 (GESIS Papers  2018/03)

The present bibliography provides a literature overview for the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). PIAAC assesses key cognitive (e.g. literacy and numeracy) and workplace skills of the adult population in over 40 countries.

The PIAAC bibliography aims to gather the different research undertaken with PIAAC and sums up all contributions including: publications of the theoretical conception of the assessed skill domains; publications of research results based on PIAAC data; the technical conception of the study (as well as follow-up studies); and published PIAAC data files.


 Teachers in Ibero-America

Teachers in Ibero-America - Insights from PISA and TALIS

This report uses the most recent OECD data, primarily from the PISA 2015 and TALIS 2013 cycles, and seeks to evaluate the Ibero-American teaching profession in support of policy makers across the region. It provides contextual evidence about the environment in which Ibero-American teachers work and develop, underlining the need for concerted support for teachers in the region. It provides a general overview of the teaching workforce in the Ibero-American countries, analysing the key characteristics of the region’s teachers and the extent of teacher sorting across schools and its relationship to equity in education.

English version Spanish version


Skills in Ibero-America: Insights from PISA 2015 provides an overview of the main skills challenges facing Ibero-American countries and explores the following important and relevant questions for the skills and education systems in the region: What specific skills challenges are Ibero-American countries facing today? What are the similarities and differences in educational performance and skills amongst the countries? What accounts for differences in performance between Latin American countries compared to Spain and Portugal and how can this gap be closed? What are the main drivers of student performance? How do these skills challenges impact labour market outcomes?


English version | Spanish version




Skills for the 21st century: findings and policy lessons from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (Education Working Papers, No. 166)

The OECD Survey of Adult Skills is the jewel in the crown of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This paper argues that the findings and policy lessons from the project to date justify the high hopes which were placed in PIAAC when detailed planning for the project began in 2003. First, it presents a brief recap of PIAAC and its two predecessor international skills surveys. Second, it outlines the main themes which have been investigated to date using data from PIAAC. Third, the main findings and policy lessons drawn from PIAAC are highlighted. Finally, looking forward to the second cycle of PIAAC, for which planning is now underway, the paper suggests some priority areas for improvement to the survey design in order to add to its analytical usefulness and enhance its utility to policy makers.

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Association between literacy and self-rated poor health in 33 high- and upper-middle-income countries (Education Working Papers, No. 165)

We assess the relationship between general literacy skills and health status by analysing data from the PIAAC, an international survey of about 250 000 adults aged 16-65 years conducted by the OECD from 2011-15 in 33 countries/national sub-regions. Across countries, there seems to be a strong and consistent association between general literacy proficiency and self-rated poor health, independent of prior socio-economic status and income. General literacy proficiency also appears to be a mediator of the association between self-education and self-rated poor health. While the literacy-health association is robust over time, it varies in magnitude across countries. It is strongest for those with a tertiary or higher degree and does not appear to exist among young adults (ages 25 to 34 years). Future studies are required to understand the contextual factors that modify the general literacy proficiency-health association.

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How returns to skills depend on formal qualifications - Evidence from PIAAC (Education Working Papers, No. 163)

Using PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) data for 21 countries, we study interrelationships between formal qualifications, cognitive skills, and labour market outcomes, focusing on comparisons between less and intermediate-educated adults (i.e. between adults with a degree below the upper secondary and at the upper secondary level). Less-educated adults tend to have lower cognitive skills than intermediate-educated adults, yet both groups are internally heterogeneous. In country-specific individual-level regressions, cognitive skills partly explain the lower occupational status of less-educated adults, but cross-national variation in their disadvantage remains substantial after accounting for skills.

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Personality matters: relevance and assessment of personality characteristics (Education Working Papers, No. 157)

This paper reviews the scientific literature covering a wide range of personality characteristics, discussing their conceptualisations and main features, their relevance for important outcomes in life and work, and the chief ways they are measured. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview of various attributes of personality from the perspective of their potential importance for the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), taking into account their analytical potential and policy relevance. The paper also outlines and evaluates the most important measurement instruments for each personality characteristic, with a focus on short self-report scales as the most appropriate form for inclusion in large-scale international surveys. Finally, it presents some considerations related to the evaluation and promotion of personality characteristics and introduces the substantive and measurement criteria that could be used to select the personality attributes, and related measurement scales, to include in large-scale surveys.

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Adaptive problem solving: Moving Towards a New Assessment Domain in the Second Cycle of PIAAC (Education Working Papers, No. 156)

The set of skills that is required to be a successful citizen in the 21st century is rapidly evolving. New technologies and social systems grow increasingly complex and require individuals to quickly and flexibly adapt to new and changing circumstances. This paper outlines the key features of the domain of adaptive problem solving that is proposed to be assessed in the 2nd cycle of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) in addition to the domains of numeracy and literacy. Adaptive problem solving is considered to be a crucial 21st century skill that combines cognitive and meta-cognitive processes. The paper develops a definition of adaptive problem solving building on relevant work in cognitive psychology and cognitive science, introduces its covariates and preconditions, discusses relevant assessment principles, and provides insights on the relevance of adaptive problem solving for labour markets and social integration.

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Youth in Transition: How do some of the cohorts participating in PISA fare in PIAAC? (Education Working Papers, No. 155)

This paper uses data from PISA and the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to examine the evolution of socio-economic and gender disparities in literacy and numeracy proficiency between the ages of 15 and 27 in the sample of countries that took part in both studies. 

Adult Skills in Focus n°5:
Do socio-economic disparities in skills grow between the teenage years and young adulthood?
Les écarts de niveau de compétences associés aux caractéristiques socioéconomiques se creusent-ils entre l’adolescence et le début de l’âge adulte ? 

» Read the blog: “How inequalities in acquiring skills evolve”, by Francesca Borgonovi 

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Measurement Properties of Non-cognitive Scales in the Polish Follow-up Study on PIAAC (POSTPIAAC) (Education Working Papers, No. 149)

There is a growing literature providing evidence that not only cognitive skills but also non-cognitive skills are important for economic and social outcomes. This paper assesses the measurement properties of the Big Five and Grit scales in a large representative sample of adults in Poland. The data from the Polish Follow-up Study on the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (postPIAAC) include longitudinal information on PIAAC respondents in Poland and additional background information not available in the international study. 

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Analysing Adult's Skills: Proceedings of the 2nd International PIAAC Conference (Haarlem, 2015)

This volume collects a selection of papers from the 2nd PIAAC International conference, jointly organised by the OECD and the Dutch Government in November 2015 in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The three papers collected in this volume represent the work of scholars who were invited to present their work in the plenary session of the conference. The authors are all renowned scholars in their respective fields. Each of the papers represents an important contribution to the better understanding of issues of labour market and education policy that are at the centre of the policy concerns of many governments.

 Cover page of the EDU Working Paper n°146

Education, Labour Market Experience and Cognitive Skills (Education Working Papers, No. 146)

This paper examines how formal education and experience in the labour market correlate with measures of human capital available in The Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The findings are consistent with the notion that, in producing human capital, work experience substitutes formal education at the bottom of the schooling distribution. First, the number of years of working experience correlates with literacy proficiency only among low-educated individuals. Secondly, low-educated workers who only perform simple tasks on their jobs (calculating percentages or reading emails) do better in numeracy and literacy tests than similar employees who did not perform those tasks. Thirdly, workers in jobs intensive in numeric tasks perform relatively better in the numeracy section of the PIAAC test than in the literacy part. Overall, our results suggest that the contribution of on-the-job learning to skill formation is about a third of that of compulsory schooling in most of the countries that participated in PIAAC.

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 Cover page of the EDU Working Paper n°145

Ageing and Literacy Skills (Education Working Papers, No. 145)

This paper examines the relationship between age and literacy using data from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL) and The Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). A negative partial relationship between literacy and age exists with literacy declining with age, especially after age 45. However, this relationship could reflect some combination of age and birth cohort effects. The analysis shows that in most participating countries the negative literacy-age profile observed in crosssectional data arises from offsetting ageing and cohort effects. With some exceptions, more recent birth cohorts have lower levels of literacy and individuals from a given birth cohort lose literacy skills after they leave school at a rate greater than indicated by cross-sectional estimates. The results for birth cohort suggest that there is not a general tendency for literacy skills to decline from one generation to the next, but that the majority of the countries examined are doing a poorer job of developing literacy skills in successive generations.

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 Cover page of the EDU Working Paper n°144

"Graduate Jobs" in OECD countries: Analysis Using A New Indicator Based on High Skills Use (Education Working Papers, No. 144)

A recurring issue for education policy-makers is the labour market effect of the long-term global mass expansion of higher education, particularly on what is a “graduate job”. The traditional assumption is that graduate jobs are virtually coterminous with professional and managerial occupations. A new indicator of graduate jobs, termed ISCO(HE)2008, is derived using task-based data drawn from the The Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The new classification shows that several jobs in ISCO major group 3 “Technicians and Associate Professionals” are also classed as graduate jobs in many countries. Altogether, 27.6% of jobs are classified as graduate jobs in the 15 OECD country-regions for which we have data. Considerable variation in the proportion of graduate jobs is found across industries and countries and in the short period from 2011 to 2013, the proportion of graduate jobs has become more diverse across countries.

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 Cover page of the EDU Working Paper n°142

Literacy and Numeracy Proficiency in IALS, ALL and PIAAC (Education Working Papers, No. 142)

This paper analyses proficiency in literacy and numeracy in the countries that have participated in the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS, administered between 1994 and 1998), the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL, administered between 2003 and 2007) and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC, administered in 2012). While many countries experienced small to modest changes in literacy proficiency between IALS and PIAAC, others saw sizeable variations, mostly on the negative side.

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 PIAAC WKP 134 Returns to ICT Skills (Cover page)

Returns to ICT Skills (Education Working Papers, No. 134)
How important is mastering information and communication technologies (ICT) in modern labour markets? We present the first evidence on this question, drawing on unique data that provide internationally comparable information on ICT skills in 19 countries from the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Our identification strategy relies on the idea that Internet access is important in the formation of ICT skills, and we implement instrumental-variable models that leverage exogenous variation in Internet availability across countries and across German municipalities. ICT skills are substantially rewarded in the labour market: returns are at 8% for a onestandard- deviation increase in ICT skills in the international analysis and are almost twice as large in Germany. Placebo estimations show that exogenous Internet availability cannot explain numeracy or literacy skills, suggesting that our identifying variation is independent of a person’s general ability. Our results further suggest that the proliferation of computers complements workers in executing abstract tasks that require ICT skills.

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 PIAAC WKP 133: Test-taking engagement in PIAAC (cover page)

Test-taking engagement in PIAAC (Education Working Papers, No. 133)
In this study, we investigated how empirical indicators of test-taking engagement can be defined,empirically validated, and used to describe group differences in the context of the Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC). The approach was to distinguish between disengaged and engaged response behavior by means of response time thresholds.

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Age, ageing and skills: Results from the Survey of Adult Skills (Education Working Papers, No. 132)
This paper presents a comprehensive analysis of the link between age and proficiency in information-processing skills, based on information drawn from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). The data reveal significant age-related differences in proficiencies, strongly suggesting that proficiency tends to "naturally" decline with age. Age differences in proficiency are, at first sight, substantial. On average across the OECD countries participating in PIAAC, adults aged 55 to 65 score some 30 points less than adults aged 25 to 34 on the PIAAC literacy scale, which is only slightly smaller than the score point difference between tertiary educated and less-than-upper-secondary educated individuals. However, despite their lower levels of proficiency, older individuals do not seem to suffer in terms of labour market outcomes. In particular, they generally earn higher wages, and much of the available empirical evidence suggests that they are not less productive than younger workers. Older and more experienced individuals seem therefore able to compensate the decline in information processing skills with the development of other skills, generally much more difficult to measure. On the other hand, proficiency in information-processing skills remain a strong determinant of important outcomes at all ages: this makes it important to better understand which factors are the most effective in preventing such age-related decline in proficiency, which does not occur to the same extent in all countries and for all individuals.

‌‌‌Adult Skills in Focus n°3:
What does age have to do with skills proficiency?
Quel rapport entre l'âge et les compétences ?

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Adults with low proficiency in literacy or numeracy (Education Working Papers, No. 131)
This report offers a comprehensive analysis of the information from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) regarding adults with low literacy and numeracy proficiency. The report describes the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of these populations and explores the frequency with which they engage in the reading, writing and numeracy practices.  Levels of engagement in these literacy practices are then related with a number of social and economic outcomes. Performance on the simple reading tasks (the so called “reading components”) of adults with low proficiency is also analysed as well as their participation rates in formal or non-formal adult education or training programmes.

 This report has been partly funded by the European Union.

Statistical Annex:
Figures included in the Report and corresponding data
Annex to Chapter 3 (Tables and Figures)

Adult Skills in Focus n°2:
What does low proficiency in literacy really mean?
Qu’entend-on réellement par faibles compétences en littératie ?

Read the blog: Making literacy everybody’s business, by Andreas Schleicher

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The effects of vocational education on adult skills and wages (Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 168)
Vocational education and training are highly valued by many. The European Ministers for Vocational Education and Training, the European Social Partners and the European Commission have issued in 2010 the Bruges Communiqué, which describes the global vision for VET in Europe 2020. In this vision, vocational skills and competencies are considered as important as academic skills and competencies. VET is expected to play an important role in achieving two Europe 2020 headline targets set in the education field: a) reduce the rate of early school leavers from education to less than 10 percent; b) increase the share of 30 to 40 years old having completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 40 percent. However, there is limited hard evidence that VET can improve education and labour market outcomes. The few existing studies yield mixed results partly due to differences in the structure and quality of VET across countries.

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The causes and consequences of field-of-study mismatch An analysis using PIAAC

The causes and consequences of field-of-study mismatch: An analysis using PIAAC (Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 167)
Field‑of‑study mismatch occurs when workers educated in a particular field work in another. It is conceptually distinct from qualifications or skills mismatch, although a part of qualifications and skills mismatch results from graduates from a particular field having to downgrade to find work in another field. Some studies have identified labour market dynamics related to field-of-study mismatch, but few (if any) have sought to directly understand the interplay between labour supply factors (the types of skills brought to the workplace) and the labour demand factors (the types of skills demanded by employers) in field‑of‑study mismatch. Using data from the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies’ Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), this paper shows that although students may choose to specialise in a particular field, it is not solely up to them to actually work in that field.

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PIAAC PUB Time for the US to Reskill

Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says
Literacy and numeracy skills lie at the root of our capacity to communicate, live and work together, to develop and share knowledge. They matter for economic success and social well-being. This report draws on the new international OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to highlight the challenges faced by the United States. It shows that the United States should take action to improve adult skills, if it wants to avoid falling behind other countries. The report also advances a set of key recommendations to improve basic skills across the board.

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Working and learning: A diversity of patterns (Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 169)
The combination of work and study has been hailed as crucial to ensure that youth develop the skills required on the labour market so that transitions from school to work are shorter and smoother. This paper fills an important gap in availability of internationally-comparable data. Using the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), it draws a comprehensive picture of work and study in 23 countries/regions.

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