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Stability and change in adult competencies: Patterns and predictors of literacy and numeracy development


Dr. Clemens Lechner, Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Cooperation partners:
Prof. Dr. Beatrice Rammstedt, Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences
Dr. Daniel Danner, Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Britta Gauly, Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences
Ai Miyamoto, Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Project summary:
In the light of globalization, technological progress, and demographic ageing, continuing education and professional development over the entire lifespan are crucial to meet the changing skill requirements of today's labor market. However, little is known about how competencies such as literacy (i.e., the ability to understand and apply information from written texts) and numeracy (i.e., the ability to understand and apply mathematical information) that are needed to function effectively in today’s societies develop during adulthood. Even less is known about the potential drivers of gains and losses in adult competencies. Moreover, the existing evidence is predominantly cross-sectional.
The advent of two recent German large-scale panel studies – the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS, Starting Cohort 6 – Adults) and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competency with its longitudinal extension (PIAAC-L) – offers a unique opportunity to fill this empirical void. Both NEPS and PIAAC-L offer repeated measures of reading competence (literacy) and mathematical competence (numeracy), covering six (three) years of adulthood. Harnessing the potential both these data sources, our project aims to shed light on three fundamental questions about adult competency development:

  1. How stable or malleable are competencies during adulthood, and does their plasticity differ across sociodemographic subgroups?
  2. What are the factors that shape lifelong learning processes? Our focus will be on occupational factors such as patterns of labor market participation, skill use on the job, and participation in continuing education and training.
  3. Which individual factors co-shape competency development? We will examine whether prior educational attainment, initial competency levels, and non-cognitive skills (i.e., personality traits such as Openness to Experience) predict gains and losses in adult competencies; and whether they moderate the effects of the occupational factors thereon.



  • Lechner, C. M., Gauly, B., Miyamoto, A., & Wicht, A. (2021). Stability and Change in Adults’ Literacy and Numeracy Skills: Evidence From two Large-Scale Panel Studies. Manuscript under revision. Personality and Individual Differences.

  • Wicht., A., Reder, S., & Lechner, C. M. (2021). Sources of individual differences in adults digital skills. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0249574.

  • Pullman, A., Gauly, B., & Lechner, C. M. (2021). Short-term earnings mobility in the Canadian and German context: The role of cognitive skills. Journal for Labour Market Research, 55(10).

  • Lechner, C. M., Bhaktha, N., Groskurth, K., & Bluemke, M. (2021). Why ability point estimates can be pointless: A primer on using skill measures from large-scale assessments in secondary analyses. Measurement Instruments for the Social Sciences.

  • Wicht, A., Miyamoto, A., & Lechner, C. M. (2021). Are girls more ambitious than boys? Gender differences in adolescents' occupational aspirations and their possible mechanisms. Manuscript accpeted for publication. Journal of Career Development.

  • Miyamoto, A., Murayama, K., & Lechner, C. M. (2020). The developmental trajectory of intrinsic reading motivation: Measurement invariance, group variations, and implications for reading proficiency. Manuscript accepted for publication. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 63.

  • Gauly, B., Lechner, C. M., & Reder, S. (2020). Does job-related training benefit adult numeracy skills? Evidence from a German panel study. Manuscript accepted for publication. In J. Schrader, A. Ioannidou, & H.-P. Blossfeld (eds.), Is there a Matthew effect in adult learning? Results from a cross-national comparison (pp. 261–289). Wiesbaden: Springer.

  • Martin, S., Lechner, C. M., Kleinert, C., & Rammstedt, B. (2020). Literacy skills predict probability of refusal in follow-up wave: Evidence from two longitudinal assessment surveys. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. Advance online publication.

  • Reder., S., Gauly., B., & Lechner, C. M. (2020). Practice makes perfect: Practice engagement theory and the development of adult literacy and numeracy proficiency. International Review of Education, 66, 267–288.

  • Wicht, A., Rammstedt, B., & Lechner, C. M. (2020). Predictors of literacy development in adulthood: Insights from a large-scale, two-wave study. Manuscript accepted for publication. Scientific Studies of Reading.

  • Gauly, B., & Lechner, C. M. (2019). Self-perfection or self-selection? Unraveling the relationship between job-related training and adults’ literacy skills. PLoS One, 14(5).

  • Lechner, C. M., Miyamoto, A., & Knopf, T. (2019). Should students be smart, curious, or both? Fluid intelligence, openness, and interest co-shape the acquisition of reading and math competence. Intelligence, 76.