Paying bills, writing shopping lists and helping with children's education has protected women's skills. But once out of work men's decline much faster, the Basic Skills Agency says.
Previous BSA research has already revealed the link between unemployment and low basic skills. Those with poor reading and writing skills are much less likely to stay in long-term employment. However, researchers say the new findings are a stark warning that once out of work many men may never work again. The poorer the men's skills were to start with and the longer they stayed unemployed, the greater was the decline.
The Princess Royal, the agency's patron, said the findings contained a salutary message for people who thought qualifications did not matter. "There is no such thing as an unskilled job anymore," she said. She said women were much more likely to admit to needing assistance with basic skills because they wanted to help with their children's education.
The research forms part of the National Child Development Study, a major survey which has been monitoring the experiences of thousands of people born on the same day in 1958.
Agency director, Alan Wells, said he wanted to see more employers offering training for existing workers and potential employees: "Being out of work can lead to a sharp decline in already poor skills.
"We can't afford to wait until all children leave school with good basic skills. If we just do this we will have a literate and numerate society in the middle of the next century. And that's too late. Too late for the adults in this research; too late for the country."