Older Australians have lower levels of literacy and numeracy than younger Australians, according to preliminary figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Director of the National Centre for Education and Training Statistics, Andrew Webster, said the recent PIAAC survey assessed people's literacy and numeracy skills and their ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments.

"The survey measures participants on a scale of one to five, one being the lowest and five being the highest," he said.

"The survey found that 44 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 74 (7.3 million) had literacy skills at levels one or two, a further 39 per cent (6.4 million) at level three and 17 per cent (2.7 million) at levels four or five. 

"For numeracy skills, 55 per cent of Australians (8.9 million) were assessed at level one or two, 32 per cent (5.3 million) at level three and 13 per cent (2.1 million) at levels four or five.

"By comparison, among people aged 60 to 74 years, 65 per cent were assessed as having literacy at levels one or two, and 71 per cent were in the lower levels of numeracy," Mr Webster said.

"There was little difference in the proportion of males and females at each level of literacy, however more males (17 per cent) than females (nine per cent) attained the highest numeracy levels.

"People out of the labour force were more likely than the employed or unemployed to be assessed at the lower levels of literacy (60 per cent) and numeracy (70 per cent)," he said.

Mr Webster announced that the ABS expects to release final results for PIAAC in October 2013, coinciding with the publication of an International Report on PIAAC by the OECD.

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), conducted in 24 countries around the world and sought to measure the skills needed for people to participate in society and for economies to prosper.

Further information can be found in Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (cat. no. 4228.0), available for free download from the ABS website www.abs.gov.au.