2006 National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographic LiteracyPresented byMy Wonderful WorldNational Geographic Education FoundationPhoto: a young girl looking at a globe
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What We Found

Americans are far from alone in the world, but from the perspective of many young Americans, we might as well be. Most young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 demonstrate a limited understanding of the world, and they place insufficient importance on the basic geographic skills that might enhance their knowledge.

Download the complete survey and report (PDF)

Young Americans answer about half (54 percent) of all the survey questions correctly. But by and large, majorities of young adults fail at a range of questions testing their basic geographic literacy.

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 6 in 10 young Americans don't speak a foreign language fluently.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It's the largest country in Africa.)
  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It's Hindu—by a landslide.)
  • Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map.

These results suggest that young people in the United States—the most recent graduates of our educational system—are unprepared for an increasingly global future. Far too many lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events.


National Geographic and leading education, business, and nonprofit partners have launched My Wonderful World, a campaign to increase global learning in school, at home, and in the community. With the help of parents, teachers—and you—we can help give our youth the power of global knowledge. Because kids who understand our world today can succeed in it tomorrow.

About the Survey

The findings presented are the results of a face-to-face survey conducted from December 17, 2005, to January 20, 2006, by Roper Public Affairs and Media, a part of GfK NOP. Interviews were conducted among a nationwide representative sample of 510 adults age 18-24 in the continental United States. Data were weighted for sample balancing by sex and age. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error for subgroups is higher. Because of rounding, numbers may not total 100 percent.

This study is the latest in a series of surveys commissioned by the National Geographic Society. The most recent prior survey was conducted among nine nations in 2002. (See results of 2002 survey.)