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The skill you probably don’t need on the job

Justin Trudeau's new political ad may feature a blackboard full of algebra (a nod to his former job as teacher), but if you doodled your way through high-school math because you figured you'd never have to "find x" in the real world, here's good news: You probably guessed right. A new study has found that while 94 per cent of American workers need to do some math on the job, only a fraction actually need to do anything more than, well, fractions.

According to the results of a survey of 2,300 U.S. workers, put together by Michael Handel, a sociologist at Northwestern University in Illinois, only 22 per cent of the people surveyed used anything more advanced than fractions at work. (Just 78 per cent, apparently, needed their multiplication tables.) The least used math skill was calculus at 5 per cent.

But this shouldn't be interpreted as a case for ditching math class. More interesting, as Atlantic reports, is that it's not those with white-collar jobs who need a handle on trigonometry – it's "upper-level blue-collar" workers. With the exception of statistics, skilled trades workers and mechanics used advanced math more than any other group of workers. And since those sectors have the jobs these days, smart parents would encourage their teens to firm up their algebra and geometry just to keep their options open.

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But if you couldn't do calculus any more if your life depended on it, here's a chance to feel better (or not). The Pew Research Center, working with Smithsonian magazine, recently released the result of a science quiz it gave 1,000 Americans. You can take the quiz and see how you rank.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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