Can a Lack of Math Skills Hurt You in the Future?

Poor math skills can turn simple tasks into complex challenges.
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Students struggling with mathematical concepts often throw up their hands in exasperation, insisting that they'll never use the material in their daily lives or that they'll just master use of a calculator. Math skills, particularly basic functions, are an important part of everyday life. From grocery shopping to paying taxes and from applying to graduate school to meeting college prerequisites, a lack of math skills can undermine your future prospects and make everyday tasks more tedious.

1 Academic Success

Math skills play a direct role in academic success and school readiness. Research by University of California professor of education Greg Duncan, for example, indicates that children with poor math skills in kindergarten through the fifth grade are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to have academic problems in all subject areas. Even among older learners, lacking math skills can close off academic options. Some graduate schools require certain baseline math skills, and college classes sometimes have mathematical prerequisites. Students without basic math skills will see options closed to them and are unlikely to be able to enter careers in lucrative fields such as science, computer technology and engineering.

2 Mathematical Thinking

Mathematical skills are about more than just adding numbers and memorizing formulas. Math helps students learn how to think logically and symbolically. If you struggle with math, you might have more difficulties with writing clearly or conveying ideas in a logical fashion. In his book, "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking," Keith Devlin emphasizes that people who improve their math skills can improve skills across all areas of knowledge.

3 Basic Arithmetic

Basic arithmetic -- adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying -- is something you'll use for the rest of your life. Arithmetic skills can help you calculate the proper tip at a restaurant, ensure you're not being underpaid, calculate averages and percentages and create a family budget. Without these skills, you'll be wedded to a calculator, and simple tasks can take much longer. Moreover, even careers that are not math-intensive -- such as social work or administrative jobs -- require basic arithmetic calculations, and an inability to do them can make you work more slowly and even harm your job prospects.

4 Complex Mathematical Formulas

Algebra, trigonometry and calculus might seem irrelevant to everyday life, and it's true that, if you're not a mathematician or scientist, you might be able to survive without them. But basic geometry can make laying carpet or painting your house easier and help you avoid buying unnecessary supplies. Algebra can help you solve simple arithmetic problems with fewer calculations, and calculus can help you read graphs, understand medical advice and read scientific studies. While these skills might not be mandatory for your job or life, they can help you work more quickly with fewer errors.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.