National Geographic Roper - 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey

    Survey Results: U.S. Young Adults Are Lagging

Despite the daily bombardment of news from the Middle East, Central Asia, and other world trouble spots, roughly 85 percent of young Americans could not find Afghanistan, Iraq, or Israel on a map, according to a new study.

Americans ages 18 to 24 came in next to last among nine countries in the National Geographic-Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey, which quizzed more than 3,000 young adults in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. Top scorers were young adults in Sweden, Germany, and Italy.

Out of 56 questions that were asked across all countries surveyed, on average young Americans answered 23 questions correctly. Others outside the U.S., most notably young adults in Mexico, also struggled with basic geography facts. Young people in Canada and Great Britain fared almost as poorly as those in the U.S.

Among young Americans’ startling knowledge gaps, the study found that

• nearly 30 percent of those surveyed could not find the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water;
• more than half—56 percent—were unable to locate India, home to 17 percent of people on Earth; and
• only 19 percent could name four countries that officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons.
Several perhaps interrelated factors affected performance—educational experience (including taking a geography course), international travel and language skills, a varied diet of news sources, and Internet use. Americans who reported that they accessed the Internet within the last 30 days scored 65 percent higher than those who did not.

The National Geographic-Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey assesses the geographic knowledge of 3,250 young adults in nine countries, including the U.S. The research also addresses young adults’ attitudes toward the importance of geography and how aware they are of geography in the context of current events. In total, 2,916 interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds were conducted using an in-home, in-person methodology. Interviews were conducted in the following countries: United States, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Great Britain, and Japan. A total of 300 interviews were conducted in each country except the U.S.; in the U.S. nearly 500 interviews were conducted with 18-to 24-year-olds and an additional sample of more than 300 25-to 34-year-olds.

All interviews were conducted using a representative sample of young adults. Interviews were conducted from mid-May to mid-July 2002.
  What is National Geographic Doing to Improve Geography Literacy?  
  image: Students explore a globe in a geography class.
Students explore a globe in a geography class.
Photograph by Charles Gupton/CORBIS
Concerned by the survey results, we are committed to ensuring that the next generation of young adults is geographically literate. But we cannot succeed alone. National Geographic is convening an international coalition of policy makers and leaders in business and the media to develop new strategies to fight geographic ignorance among young people around the globe. In 2003, this coalition will make recommendations on specific initiatives that could be taken by educators, the media, policy-makers and business leaders, as well as parents and children, to reverse the trend of geographic illiteracy.

Make geography a part of your life. As a family watch the news with a globe or atlas handy. Check out these related links for activities and games that make geography fun. Talk to your children’s teachers and your state politicians about the importance of geography. Get the word out: Geography matters.

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Related Link
GeoSpy Game