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Does being good at maths help you earn more?  Will studying maths help you secure an interesting and well-paid career?  Will there be more or less maths jobs on offer in the future?  These are all questions to ask when you are choosing your A-levels or degree.

The Smith Review

In 2017 Sir Adrian Smith published a review of post-16 mathematics education for the government. The first part of this review shows how important maths is for people’s future career choices. In this article we will summarise some of the key messages on the importance of maths which are contained within the Smith Review. All quotes are from the Smith Review 2017.

Everyone needs basic maths

The Smith Review has made it clear that basic numeracy skills are vital to a person’s career prospects:

‘adults with basic numeracy skills earn higher wages and are more likely to be in employment than those who fail to master these skills.’

GCSE maths will help you earn more

The Smith Review also found that getting a good GCSE maths result (as well as English) has a big impact on future earnings:

‘Individuals who achieve five or more good GCSEs (including English and mathematics) as their highest qualification have a lifetime productivity gain worth around £100,000 compared to those with below level 2 or no qualifications.’

maths boardA-level maths will help you earn even more

It has been found that people who take A-level maths earn an average of 11% more over their lifetime:

‘It is generally accepted that attaining A level mathematics bestows a significant wage premium. The often-cited work by Dolton and Vignoles demonstrated that graduates from 1980 with a mathematics A level were earning 7- 10 per cent higher wages in their early thirties compared to those who took A levels in other subjects, even after controlling for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. A repeat of this work using a later cohort found a return of around 11 per cent.’

Mathematical sciences jobs are well paid

There is good evidence that jobs involving maths are well-paid:

‘Around half of individuals in jobs where mathematical sciences qualifications are essential were found to have salaries of £29,000 or more, compared with only 19 per cent of the UK workforce overall.’

Mathematical sciences jobs are important to the economy

The Smith Review found that when students do well in maths at school, it has a positive impact on the economy:

‘analysis of student performance in international mathematics and science tests from 50 countries over 40 years shows that higher performance is significantly and positively related to growth in real output per capita.’

There is a mathematical skills shortage in the UK

There is a shortage of people with the right maths skills. This means that if you have good maths skills then you will be in a strong position when looking for jobs:

‘In the UK, around seven in ten employees report that quantitative skills are essential or important to carry out their work. … In 2012, around 20 per cent of young people in the UK did not have basic skills.’

maths bookThere is a skills shortage of people with advanced mathematical skills

There is a particular shortage of people with ‘advanced’ mathematical skills. These would be people who had undergraduate or postgraduate degrees in subjects such as mathematics, statistics or computer science.

‘Almost 30 per cent of skill shortage vacancies in 2015 were linked to a lack of ‘complex’ numerical/statistical skills. When UK businesses were surveyed about the level of skills held by their technology specialists, half (equivalent to 182,000 firms) identified a shortfall among their staff. Businesses operating within financial services were most likely to be experiencing such gaps.’

The demand for mathematics is increasing

The need for mathematically qualified people is on the rise, meaning that if you study maths you are in a good position long term.

‘The proportion of employees saying advanced mathematics or statistics is important in their jobs rose from 29 per cent in 1997 to 38 per cent in 2012 …

Developments in technology will alter the nature of work and jobs. A study of the susceptibility of US jobs to computerisation concluded that the jobs available in the future will increasingly require mathematical and quantitative skills.

Between 2013 and 2020, employment in the UK is forecast to increase by 6 per cent, whilst demand for experts in software, data storage, retrieval and analysis is expected to rise by 160 per cent, reflecting the growing UK digital economy and the increasing amounts of data garnered from the internet of things.’

business manIt’s not just maths degrees which need maths

Even if you plan to study a degree subject other than maths at university, it is likely that you will still need good maths skills. If you study A-level maths it will help you in lots of different degrees:

‘Mathematical concepts and techniques are required in higher education for a wide range of disciplines, not just the sciences.  … Students are often surprised at the extent of the mathematical demands of their university programmes and some struggle to cope with those demands. For example, over 80 per cent of economics students surveyed stated there was much more mathematics involved in their economics degree programme than they expected. … In a STEM survey of sociology degree students, over a third said that they struggled with quantitative methods. More than half felt “anxious” when using mathematics/statistics and a slightly smaller proportion found working with numbers “challenging”.’

Maths really does help you earn more

The Smith Review shows that studying mathematics really does help people earn more, whatever level they are at. There is also a hidden message behind all of this.  Not everyone is just after earning as much as they can – most people want job satisfaction, job security and flexibility. Maths skills are in high demand – meaning that people with the right qualifications will not only be able to command a high salary, they will also have a lot of choices in the job market, meaning that they can have the ability to find a job which suits them and interests them.

All quotes in this article are from Sir Adrian Smith’s review of post-16 mathematics

Article by Hazel Lewis

Image Credits

Featured image Salary by Evan Jackson@Flickr

Franklin High School, Seattle WA: Math Department Hallway “Marker Wall” by Joe Wolf@Flickr

Study by Bill Selak@Flickr

Business Man by Lucia Castillo@Flickr