Over a third of adults say that maths makes them feel anxious

22nd May 2023

Over a third of adults (35 per cent) say that doing maths makes them feel anxious, while one in five (20 per cent) are so fearful it even makes them feel physically sick, according to new research from KPMG UK and the charity National Numeracy.

The study of 3,000 UK adults found that numeracy gives far too many feelings of fear or unease, while almost a third (29 per cent) say they actively try to avoid anything to do with numbers and data.

For nearly a third (32 per cent), the cost-of-living crisis has placed greater pressure on their numeracy skills, and of those with low number confidence, the same percentage even say it affects their mental wellness.

More than half (52 per cent) of adults say they stopped studying maths at school as soon as they were able to, however a third (34 per cent) have taken steps to improve since secondary school. As many as two-thirds (66 per cent) agree that you don’t realise how important maths skills are until you’re older and are using them to navigate daily life.

Over two-thirds (69 per cent) of adults backed the notion that the UK needs to take additional measures to address the issue of low number confidence, and over half (51 per cent) acknowledge a greater emphasis being put on improving numeracy skills in recent years.

Bina Mehta, Chair at KPMG in the UK, said “Confidence with numbers isn’t reserved for mathematicians, it’s an essential skill helping us navigate daily life – from understanding interest rates to working out value for money while shopping. ”

“Those lacking confidence in their numeracy skills are more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud. As our research highlights, the impact on wellbeing can’t be underestimated, especially against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis. ”

“Maths is far more than a classroom subject, it’s a skill like any other, and it can be improved at any age. As two-thirds of our respondents suggested, you don’t always realise how important these skills are until you’re older.”

“If we want to build a more prosperous and fair economy, we all have a duty – as individuals, businesses, policy makers and education leaders – to ensure numeracy skills get the attention they deserve.” 

Over a third (35 per cent) say that they would be put off a job role if it mentioned having to deal with numbers and data, while a fifth believe their lack of confidence has affected career choices and impacted their earnings.

The cost-of-living crisis has made it easier to talk more openly about their numeracy for more than a quarter (26 per cent) and 28 per cent want to improve their skills, but admitted they don’t know where to start.

Sam Sims, Chief Executive at National Numeracy said “Tackling people’s fears and worries about numbers is a vital first step if we want the nation to get on with numbers.”

“Focussing on exams and courses alone won’t work for the millions who hated maths at school – we know a bad experience at school is linked to lower number confidence and attainment. So, from early years and primary school, right into adulthood, we’d like to see the confidence to understand and work with numbers form a central part of maths learning in the UK.”

“Maths is a mental wellness issue, as this survey shows. We need to get better at acknowledging and supporting those who struggle with numbers – it has very real effects on their lives and livelihoods, which the cost-of-living crisis has highlighted.”

“Feeling anxious about maths is completely understandable. Our charity offers vital support and can help people begin to feel better about the numbers in their everyday lives.”