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Teens' Knowledge of World History Slipping

Teens' Knowledge of World History Slipping

by Joseph Carroll

In a world where the importance of cultural awareness and understanding is becoming increasingly obvious, Gallup Youth Surveys indicate that U.S. teens' knowledge of world history has slipped during the past two decades.

A 1977 Gallup Youth Survey* found that at least half of all American teens could identify the nations associated with Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, but a May 2000 poll** revealed that today's American teens are far less likely to identify the nations associated with important historical figures.

  • In the 2000 survey, 66% of American teens connected Hitler with Germany, compared to 79% in 1977.
  • Only 36% of teens in 2000 associated Napoleon with France, while 52% did so in 1977.
  • The percentage of teens who associated Churchill with England decreased in half over this period of time, from 50% in 1977 to 25% in 2000.

Historically, there are significant differences between teen boys and teen girls on this measure. Generally, boys are more likely to link these individuals to their associated nations than are girls.

  • The 2000 survey shows that 74% of boys associated Hitler with Germany, compared to 58% of girls. The 1977 poll found an 18-percentage point difference between boys and girls, by a margin of 88% to 70% respectively.
  • The gap between boys' and girls' abilities to associate Churchill with England is actually closing, even though fewer teens overall can do so. In the 2000 poll, 27% of boys and 22% of girls connected Churchill with England. In 1977, there was a 20-percentage point difference on this measure, with 60% of boys and 40% of girls identifying Churchill as English.

In a May 5-7, 2000 Gallup poll***, U.S. adults were asked to identify the nation associated with these same historical figures. Not surprisingly, adults are much more likely than are teens to associate these individuals with the correct country. Almost nine in 10 adults (87%) associated Hitler with Germany, 70% linked Churchill to England, and 65% connected Napoleon to France.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross-section of 1,087 American teen-agers, 13 to 18 years old, conducted Oct. 17-30, 1977. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ± 3 percentage points.

**Sample includes 501 American teen-agers, 13 to 17 years old, conducted January through April 2000. Sampling error: ± 5 percentage points.

***Sample includes 1,031 American adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 5-7, 2000. Sampling error: ± 3 percentage points.

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