Love Your Math Teacher

Math is great; don’t let anyone tell ya differently.  When kids say “When am I EVER gonna use this in real life?” you can now say “When it comes to keepin’ your house”.

I’ve always said that math, the kinda math that we teach in high school–not Mathematics that we teach in college Math degree courses– is more of an exercise in thinking than really providing deep insightful understanding into the science, indeed art, of mathematics.  In much the same way we would never expect a football player to encounter a line of old auto tires and have to step through ’em in a game, I never would expect someoone to encounter the need to demonstrate that triangle A is congruous to triangle B in real life.

But the ability to get from here to there is a skill that is most useful in life; even to the point of getting and keeping a home.

Math teaches us how to think.  Math teaches us how to use logic.  Math teaches us to employ reason.  Math teaches us how to get from here to there.

So it should come as no surprise that people who are poor at math are also poor at those things listed above.  And it just so happens that being good at those things trends with paying your mortgage:

IF you can’t divide 300 by 2, should you qualify for a loan?

That is one of the questions raised by a new study led by a Columbia University assistant business professor, Stephan Meier, who found that borrowers with poor math skills were two  times more likely than others to go into foreclosure.

Over all, 21 percent of the respondents whose math abilities placed them in the bottom quarter of the survey experienced foreclosure, versus 7 percent of those in the top quarter.

Simple.  Good at math, good at staying out of foreclosure.  Bad at math, bad at staying out of foreclosure.

The survey..was it unfair?  Were the questions hard?

The respondents were asked five questions, with the first requiring borrowers to divide 300 by 2, and the second to calculate 10 percent of 1,000.


And the thing about this study is that it’s unrelated to income levels:

Mr. Meier said that the results were consistent among all levels of education and income.

In fact, even education levels don’t trend.  Simple math understanding does it:

“People say they’re doctors, so they don’t really need it,” she said. “So what? We see doctors who took out loans they didn’t understand, and who are in foreclosure now.”

Even doctors.

What does this mean?

Mr. Meier said the study had at least two implications for mortgage lenders. “Maybe start adding math tests to the process,” he said, “and screen them away.”

Imagine that.  Having to take a math test to obtain a loan!  Hug your math teacher today!

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