NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Economic Illiteracy

December 16, 1999

Half of all American adults and two-out-of-three high school students received a failing grade for their knowledge of basic economic concepts on a survey by the nonprofit National Council on Economic Education.

The "Standards in Economics Survey," conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, Inc., interviewed a national cross-section of 1,010 adults aged 18 and over and a representative sample of 1,085 students in grades 9 through 12.

The questions pertained to basic economic concepts regarding production, money, interest rates and inflation, government and trade.

  • On average, American adults get a grade of 57 percent for their knowledge of basic economic concepts, while high school students scored 58 percent.
  • Only six percent of adults received a grade of A, and ten percent received a grade of B.
  • Only three percent of students received a letter grade of A, and seven percent received a letter grade of B.

Adults who have completed college score dramatically higher than those who have not, with the majority receiving a grade of C or better. Working adults scored higher than non-working adults; males scored higher than females; and whites scored higher than blacks or Hispanics.

Twelfth graders -- who are more likely to have been taught economics in school -- scored higher than students in the lower grades and as well as adults. Students who usually receive A's scored higher than those who do not; students who have been taught economics in school score higher than those who have not; and students who have at least one college-educated parent score higher than those who do not.

Although 39 states have written guidelines for economics education in kindergarten through 12th grade, only 13 states require students to take a course in economics before graduation, says the council.

Source: "The Standards in Economics Survey," April 1999, National Council on Economic Education, 1140 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036, (202) 861-5838.

 

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