Financial wellness programs and efforts to educate employees on retirement plan ins and outs notwithstanding, employers may not be giving employees what they need to navigate the intricacies of finance. What they really need are skills they should have gotten years ago.

That’s the conclusion of “The financial skills of adults across the world,” a study from Cambridge University and University College London, which found “striking weaknesses” in adults’ financial skills across 31 countries. The study points out that as “consumers are increasingly faced with a large number of difficult decisions affecting their financial and social well-being,” financial intermediaries are offering them “increasingly complex financial products.”

The BBC reports that not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, people are unable to keep up with those complex financial demands. A quarter of adults have a tough time figuring out how much change they should get from a store purchase and half can’t decipher a simple financial line graph. Using a particular subset of “The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies,” a comprehensive study that looks at adults’ abilities to use their skills, researchers asked study participants four questions assessing their ability to use numerical skills in everyday financial tasks.

The results are disturbing, to say the least, particularly when considered in light of the level of skills people need to figure out how to prepare for retirement (or, for that matter, to do their jobs). Analysts say of the results, “A substantial number of people lack the basic skills that are needed to solve everyday financial tasks.” They found not only the disturbing overall results above, but also that in Spain, England and Italy, that 25 percent group who couldn’t figure out their change rose to about a third. In addition, about a third of adults couldn’t figure out how much a product cost if they were told how much it was a pound, liter or kilo.

Those line graphs? In Greece, Italy, Chile and Turkey, three quarters of respondents couldn’t figure out how to read them, and most adults struggled to calculate discounts involving more complex calculations. When it comes to the U.S., respondents finished 20th out of 31 countries, and women trailed men in being able to answer correctly.

Study lead author Prof John Jerrim, from the UCL’s Institute of Education, says in the report, “We all need to be able to conduct basic financial calculations in order to make rational, well-informed decisions. This includes how much we should save into our pensions, understanding the financial implications of borrowing money from payday loan sites, through to whether we can really afford to buy a particular house.” The U.S. has a long way to go.

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