Young Americans Geographically Illiterate, Survey Suggests

May 2, 2006

Young adults in the United States fail to understand the world and their place in it, according to a survey-based report on geographic literacy released today.

Take Iraq, for example. Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel.

Nine in ten couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

And 54 percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.

Remember the December 2004 tsunami and the widespread images of devastation in Indonesia?

Three-quarters of respondents failed to find that country on a map. And three-quarters were unaware that a majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim, making it the largest Muslim country in the world.

(See the full report.)

"Young Americans just don't seem to have much interest in the world outside of the U.S.," said David Rutherford, a specialist in geography education at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

New York City-based Roper Public Affairs conducted the survey for the National Geographic Society. In total, Roper carried out 510 interviews between December 17, 2005, and January 20, 2006.

The average respondent answered 54 percent of the questions correctly. (See how you compare: Test yourself with questions from the survey.)

"Alarming," "Discouraging" Results

"The Roper poll is alarming, as it has been continuously for the past several years," said Douglas Richardson, executive director of the Association of American Geographers in Washington, D.C.

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