# How Useful Is High School Math on the Job?

**By Anthony P. Carnevale and Megan L. Fasules**

It’s been one year since a majority of K–12 students across the country transitioned to online, at-home school. Virtual learning has created many changes for students, parents, and teachers, but some things — like math homework — remain with us. As math classes celebrate Pi Day* on March 14, students may be wondering whether the math they learn in high school will be useful in their adult lives. We took a look at the data to help answer that age-old question.

Having some math knowledge comes in handy for certain common tasks outside your job like calculating a tip or doing taxes. Otherwise, the level of math that students will use depends in large part on their future occupation.

Predictably, jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) use the highest levels of math, with 92 percent of STEM workers needing to know at least Algebra II (Figure 1). They must be able to build and interpret both linear and quadratic equations and inequalities. Most STEM jobs require even higher-level math, with 67 percent requiring college-level math such as calculus.

Managerial and professional office occupations, such as financial analysts and marketing specialists, also require relatively high levels of math training. Fifty-seven percent of these workers must know at most Algebra II, and 22 percent need even higher levels of math to perform their work. In education, 73 percent of workers need to know Algebra II.

Still, much of the math taught in high schools goes unused in many occupations. Only 37 percent of prime-age workers (25 to 54 years old) need Algebra II for their jobs, and a majority of workers do not use Algebra II at all. For example, fewer than 30 percent of blue-collar occupations require Algebra II, and it is not needed in community services and arts and healthcare support occupations.

**Figure 1. STEM occupations require the highest levels of math.**

*Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2015–19; and the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Occupational Information Network (O*NET) 25.0 database, 2020.*

Even for the majority of workers who don’t need Algebra II to be career-ready, though, studying math in high school is not a waste of time. Solving math problems helps students develop their critical reasoning and analytical skills, which can help them in general on the job and in life.

Workers in jobs that don’t require Algebra II may need an understanding of math-related areas that high schools don’t commonly teach, such as data fluency and financial literacy. Math instruction in these increasingly in-demand areas would help prepare high school students for a broader variety of careers. We can better prepare today’s young people for the future workforce by making these math courses more widely available and ensuring that students receive career counseling as they decide which math courses to take.

*Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 because the numerical date (3/14) represents the first three digits of pi, which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

Among math courses, Algebra II has come to represent the gatekeeper for exiting high school and entering college. We define it here as O*NET mathematics knowledge level 4, or analyzing data to determine areas with the highest sales. We define calculus as O*NET mathematics knowledge level 6, or deriving a complex mathematical equation. Therefore, we define college-level mathematics as being equivalent to O*NET levels 5–7.

*Dr. Carnevale is Director and Research Professor and Dr. Fasules is Assistant Research Professor and Research Economist at the **Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce**. CEW is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the links between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.*