Millennials Are Who We Thought They Were

Young workers, students lag far behind their peers overseas


Update 11:42 a.m.: A previous version of this article said this study was conducted by researchers a Princeton University. The research was done by an education non profit.


American millennials are among the least skilled workers in the world, raising red flags about their ability to compete against their peers in other countries, according to a new study.

Researchers from education non-profit ETS compared test results of Americans with their peers in more than 20 advanced economies. The results pointed to an alarming trend, as young workers and students between the ages of 16 and 34 lagged far behind their peers in countries like Japan and Sweden in mathematical understanding and literacy. The report says that the results were even more surprising because millennials “have attained the most years of schooling of any cohort in American history.”

“These young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers,” the report says. “These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background.”

Young Americans are not only losing ground to their peers overseas. Rising educational attainment in the form of record-breaking college attendance and undergraduate degrees has not led to increased knowledge among adults. Researchers found that current American adults fell short of the literacy of previous generations of Americans.

“Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys,” the researchers say.

The report emphasizes that policymakers should steer away from traditional benchmarks of measuring its worker skills by academic credentials or years of schooling. The results pointed to a gap between years of schooling and the acquisition of marketable skills. High school graduates have consistently fallen below proficiency levels in math and English necessary to attend college, even among students taking the SAT—a population that generally aspires to college attendance.

“The findings also offer a clear caution to anyone who believes that our policies around education should focus primarily on years of schooling or trusts that the conferring of credentials and certificates alone is enough,” it says. “Far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary educational programs without receiving adequate skills. If we expect to have a better-educated population and a more competitive workforce, policy makers and other stakeholders will need to shift the conversation from one of educational attainment to one that acknowledges the growing importance of skills and examines these more critically.”

No Millenials were available to comment because they were too busy avoiding washing their cereal bowls.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is

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