Young Americans Flunk Geography

Published March 1, 2003

When young American adults were given a map of the United States and asked to find 10 specific states, California and Texas were the only two that could be located by a large majority of those surveyed (89 percent). Almost half (49 percent) could not locate New York, and more than two-thirds (70 percent) could not locate New Jersey.

The Americans, who were surveyed for National Geographic by RoperASW, weren’t much better at world geography. Only 24 percent were able to locate Saudi Arabia, only 17 percent were able to locate Afghanistan, and just 13 percent could locate Iraq or Iran.

The survey, which involved interviews with more than 300 men and women aged 18 to 24 in nine different countries, asked 56 geographic and current events questions. The top scorer was Sweden, with an average of 40 correct answers, followed by Germany and Italy, who each scored an average of 38. The surveyed Americans averaged only 23 correct answers, while Mexico placed last with just 21.

“If our young people can’t find places on a map and lack awareness of current events, how can they understand the world’s cultural, economic, and natural resource issues that confront us?” asked John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society.

Item from the November 20, 2002 issue of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.