An undated view of a National Geographic survey on geographic literacy. Most American young people can't find Iraq on a map, even though U.S. troops have been there for more than three years, according to a National Geographic study released on Tuesday. (Handout/Reuters)
Most American young people can't find Iraq on a map, even though U.S.
troops have been there for more than three years, according to a new geographic
literacy study released on Tuesday.
Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans aged 18-24 in a survey could place Iraq on an
unlabeled map of the Middle East, a study conducted for National Geographic
found. Only about one-quarter of respondents could find Iran and Israel on the
Sixty-nine percent of young people picked out China on a map of Asia,
but only about half could find India and Japan and only 12 percent correctly
"I'm not sure how important it is that young adults can find Afghanistan
on a map. But ... that is symptomatic of the bigger issue, and that's (U.S.
young adults) not having a sense that things around the world really matter
that much," said John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society.
The study results confirm Fahey's concern: 21 percent said it was "not
too important" to know where countries in the news are located.
Half of respondents said it was "absolutely necessary" to know how
to read a map, but a large percentage lacked basic practical map-reading skills.
For example, most young people were able to locate a port city on a fictitious
map, but one-third would have gone in the wrong direction in the event of an
In general, natural disasters appear to have a limited impact on young Americans'
view of the world, the study found.
Only 35 percent identified Pakistan as the country hit by a catastrophic earthquake
last October, killing over 70,000 people; 29 percent thought it happened in
Most respondents could find Louisiana and Mississippi, but still more than
one-third failed to find those two states that were the subject of daily news
coverage after the onslaught of hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.
There were some positive signs: young people who go online for news and who
use two or more different news sources show a greater knowledge of geography,
the study found.
In addition, the American Association of Geography reported that enrollment
in college geography classes is up.
Young men did better on geography questions than young women. International
travel and foreign language study improved geographic knowledge although recent
immigrants and the children of immigrants tended to get fewer questions right.
The study was conducted in face-to-face interviews with 510 respondents in
the continental United States in late 2005 and early 2006. It has an error margin
of 4.4 percentage points.
Aiming to improve geographic literacy among U.S. young people, National Geographic
joined with businesses, nonprofit and educational groups to launch a five-year
multimedia campaign called My Wonderful World. More information is available
online at www.mywonderfulworld.org.