The importance of mathematics skills in the world of work

The importance of mathematics in practical lufe has no limit. Studies have predicted that there is a clear relationship between success in mastering mathematics and the socioeconomic level reached years later. Nobody understands what is the mechanism behind this question, but research points almost univocally towards this fact.

“Your ability to understand mathematics as a child determines your work and even your salary”, some headlines associated with studies of all kinds venture. But to what extent can we use that correlation to predict? Are we not misinterpreting something? We have contacted a mathematician, professor and popularizer to try to clear up some unknowns.

“Your salary depends on your early math skills”

Not one, not two, or three studies show a direct relationship between the ability to understand and master mathematical concepts and future employment and socioeconomic success. This concept is not entirely new. Education by area has always been related to the socioeconomic factor of families. However, for the psychology professors Stuart J. Ritchie and Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh, it is mathematics that takes the upper hand in this relationship.

“Regardless of how many skills we have, how much time we spend in school, or how smart we are, the skills learned have a measurable effect on success in adulthood,” Lindsay Abrams, editor of The Atlantic, commented on this study.. In it, the researchers pointed out that the association between basic math and reading skills can be correlated with an increase in wages in middle age. What’s more, they dared to give a figure: no less than $7,750 more than the annual average for people with better ability in mathematics.

We have contacted Santiago García Cremades, mathematician, researcher, disseminator and associate professor at the Miguel Hernandez University of Elche to ask him about this and other similar investigations. “As in any social study,” he explains, “it is very difficult to conclude that there is a determination of a variable with a single factor. There are several factors, but the curious thing is that of all the variables measured, educational success in the area of mathematics is on average the best related to socioeconomic or work success. That is, the level in Mathematics would be an indicator of the socioeconomic status of an environment”, he confirms.

Having a mathematics education defines to a large extent your critical capacity and your ability to make decisions

“It is not surprising at all,” he continues, “and it is that having a mathematics education defines to a large extent your critical capacity and your ability to make decisions, and that is what will rule that a person has good conditions in any work environment In fact, it is possible to predict what socioeconomic level people have at 40 years of age according to their mathematical ability at seven years of age. Napoleon already said it : ‘The development of peoples is closely linked to the development of Mathematics’ “.

Math is everywhere

Importance of mathematics

A 2019 report from the consulting firm Analistas Financieros Internacionales recently concluded that, in Spain alone, mathematics is directly responsible for more than one million jobs. This supposes the production of 10% of the gross domestic product. “The new accelerating agent of economic growth is mathematics,” reads the press release announcing the report. The impact is both direct and indirect. We could say, without a doubt, that mathematics is everywhere. Especially in the areas of computing, financial activities, telecommunications services and the branch of electricity and gas, including art.

But is it enough to justify the previous section? Let’s go back to a point less pragmatic but of equal impact: education. Can we really use mathematics as a unique, and almost exclusive, indicator of school success? “The answer is explained through history,” he tells us after a few moments. ” Not everything is’ mathematics’, but we can say that everything has been ‘mathematics’. Since Pythagoras coined the term, which means” what can be learned ‘, back in the 6th century BC, the Mathematics education, and all academic education, has changed substantially.”

Today, he explains, any meter gives us the same conclusion, in China, Australia or the US, the best indicator of socioeconomic status [called SES] is the level in mathematics education. “If we use the PISA report as a reference, we can see the relationship between the marks in Mathematics with the socioeconomic level of each country, and we see that the correlation by strata is very clear,” he says.

For this professor, we are also at a time when statistics and computing are more necessary than ever, due to the huge databases that we have in all scientific studies. “To study the genetic code, do meteorological studies or, precisely, do social studies with a multitude of variables,” he says, returning to the pragmatism of the profession.

What are Maths for?

“It’s the million dollar question,” Santi answers. “And it’s easy to answer: They are good for everything but they don’t have to be good for anything. Like music that is pure mathematics, it doesn’t really work for anything either, but it ‘tickles’ our brains. People who don’t perceive beauty in this science wants to understand the first part: ‘what for?’ Well today, more than ever, those who do not know something about mathematics are going to have a serious problem in the age of data that we are in.”

“Mathematics is seen as something in which we investigate a few academics far from everyday reality, but the truth is that they are increasingly a strategic national resource,” said Tomás Chacón, from the University of Seville and coordinator of the REM, a network that integrates the entire Spanish mathematical community and seeks to promote the transfer of mathematical results to the business community. “Applying mathematics to all economic sectors is what is giving countries an advantage in the markets, and now, for the first time, we have the numbers that prove it,” he commented to the press.

“We have too much information,” says Santi García. “More than we can handle with computers. And, in between, there are crossed messages and lies everywhere: fake news, hoaxes, pseudosciences… The person who does not know how to have the appropriate science and technology to analyze what The surrounding area is at a disadvantage. This includes mathematics. I am not talking about working with Big Data, but knowing how to understand the electricity bill, an offer in the supermarket, the Law d’Hondt [a higher average method to allocate seats ] or any medical information”.

If we go to another level, to the professional, mathematics seems to be there, always. Especially in relation to the scientific and technical field. It is unquestionable. “They are the basis of all sciences”, confirms the mathematician. “I like to say that mathematics makes science can be called science, using the scientific method, since without mathematics the reproducibility of theories in experimental sciences could not be verified “.

“Many times we find in biology, chemistry, physics or other sciences concepts and phenomena that had already been described before in mathematics” Santi García notes. “Like the probabilistic laws that the Bernoulli studied and that gave rise to the Mendel and Hardy-Weinberg laws. Or the Riemannian Geometry that Einstein needed for the Theory of Relativity,  or the exponential laws that Euler studied and that chemists use to date any type of matter… “.

Many times we find in biology, chemistry, physics or other sciences concepts and phenomena that had already been described before in mathematics

Mathematics, the center of culture

But there are still more questions to be solved. Do we have a good “mathematical culture”? The question is triggered at will. The answer is just as accurate and crude: “Clearly, no. As long as there is still an apology for mathematical ignorance, it is impossible. That is, while saying ‘I don’t know about math’, ‘I don’t remember anything, I don’t it goes with me ‘,’ buff, I don’t even remember dividing ‘, we’ll go wrong… “, he says irritably.

It is easy to understand the appreciation of the mathematician if we take into account the vision he gave us before. “Not because of that lack of knowledge, which is not so serious at an individual level, but as a society. To boast without any shame of ignorance shows that this science is not close to people. This does not happen with any other culture.”

“Nobody says ‘I don’t know anything about cinema, and I don’t care,'” he continues. “Everyone would reproach him that he is missing something important. Something similar should happen in mathematics, that they are part of our daily culture. And there is no reason to have a depth of knowledge, it is a matter of having a mathematical attitude at certain times”.

And what about people who have problems with math?. Not long ago we were talking about dyscalculia, “math dyslexia,” as it is colloquially known. “Dyscalculia can be a big problem,” answers the popularizer. “But many people are not [dyscalculic] and practice as such. Even people who suffer from dyscalculia can be great algebraists or topologists, two areas of mathematics that do not study quantity.”

This is another topic: that mathematicians are calculating machines, and it has nothing to do with it,” the professor answers firmly. “The definition of mathematics in many dictionaries was ‘science that deals with quantity’, a definition that does not take into account geometry, which studies forms; logic, which studies relationships; or Topology, which studies structures regardless of size.”

“The RAE has updated this definition of mathematics”, clarifies Santi. “Now described as the ‘deductive science that studies the properties of abstract entities such as numbers, geometric or symbols figures, and their relations’. It is a definition rather more successful. And no longer leaves out people with dyscalculia or, even to the numerical ones“, the mathematician ditch.

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