Geography isn’t everyone’s strong point. After your school days, aside from booking a holiday, many people won’t learn anything more about the countries of the world well into adulthood.
This unfortunate fact got us thinking – just how good is the UK’s geography knowledge anyway?
Using Google search data from the past four years, compartmentalised into each major area of the UK, we sought to understand the scale and specifics of any gaps in British grasp of geography.
UK areas with the best and worst European geography
The areas of the UK with the worst geography skills was determined by the total number of searches of “where is [European Country]”, divided by the total population in hundreds of thousands.
The West Midlands (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire) boasted the best European geography ability on our list, with 3,540 searches a month from its population of around 5.5 million.
The North East (Northamptonshire, Tyne and Wear, County Durham, Tees Valley) were pipped to the first spot, enjoying the second lowest number of searches compared to the population of the area.
The East Midlands (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire) had the third best European geography knowledge.
The South West (Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall) came fourth, with just 4860 searches each month on average from a population of over 5,340,000.
Generally, northern areas fared best in terms of knowledge of the continent, with Scotland enjoying an acceptable (5,370 from 5,373,000 residents) number of people looking to find out more about where European countries are located.
God’s own country (North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire) had a very reputable European expertise level, with a relatively small number of searches compared to its large population.
The South East (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, West Sussex) had decidedly average geographical wisdom of our fair continent, with an average of 8,880 searches from a population of almost 8.7 million.
Wales were on the margins of a ‘Poor’ ranking but crept into the middle bracket with 3,530 monthly searches compared to its population of around 3 million.
Disappointingly, our local area, the North West (Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside) had a poor knowledge of European countries, with a high percentage of the population using search engines to expand their European geography each month.
Northern Ireland had more monthly searches than one of the areas ranked ‘Very Good’ – the North East – despite having a population almost a million people smaller. This discrepancy places Northern Ireland second bottom in our rankings.
Surprisingly, the capital came rock bottom for geography knowledge, with a massive 12,830 searches enquiring about countries in the continent each month. Even when scaled by the huge population of the capital and surrounding area, Greater London still came comfortably last.
Capital cities of European countries were also a big issue for UK searchers.
Our research revealed some surprisingly obvious countries hitting the top spots – including German, Spain, Italy, and France.
Is it in Europe?
Our research also looked at the number of people taking to search engines to check if a particular country was in Europe.
Over the last four years (May 2013 – April 2014 to May 2016 – April 17), many European countries have seen big rises in the number of people wondering if they are in Europe. For example:
- “is Azerbaijan in Europe” increased by 284%
- “is Greece in Europe” increased by 171%
- “is Iceland in Europe” increased by 160%
- “is Russia in Europe” increased by 124%
One standout location from the list is Iceland, as the popularity of the frozen wonderland has boomed in recent years, growing as a major destination for UK travellers. Not surprising, then, that many potential holidaymakers are curious as to what continent it’s in.
“Is Australia in Europe?”
Interestingly, there was a 555% rise in searches for “is Australia in Europe” from May 2013 – April 2014 to May 2016 – April 17, with almost all the searches coming in May – the month of the annual Eurovision song contest.
This coincides with Australia being allowed to enter the Eurovision Song contest for the first time, making their debut in 2015.
It seems the public couldn’t comprehend why the Aussies were entered into the competition and took to Google to try and understand why.
Is the UK’s European geography getting worse or better?
To determine whether the UK’s knowledge of Europe is getting better or worse over time, we looked at the percentage increase of the overall population and compared it to the percentage rise in searches about where European countries are found.
The population rose by:
- 3.19% from 2013-14 to 2014-15
- 0.60% from 2014-15 to 2015-16
- 0.61% from 2015-16 to 2016-17
The number of search queries rose much higher each year (apart from this year):
- Increase of 39.40% 2013-14 to 2014-15
- Increase of 27.30% from 2014-15 to 2015-16
- Small decrease of 1.96% from 2015-16 to 2016-17
This suggests that while expertise about Europe got dramatically worse in the last few years, it seems to have stabilised for now.
We didn’t stop at Europe, either. Our research also involved looking at how many searches the British public were performing for every country in the world.
From this data, we determined the top ten countries that people are most curious about:
1. Where is Malta?
2. Where is Mauritius?
3. Where is Montenegro?
4. Where is Morocco?
5. Where is Singapore?
6. Where is Bulgaria?
7. Where is Croatia?
8. Where is Aruba?
9. Where is Costa Rica?
10. Where is Azerbaijan?
We’re hypothesising that travel has had a big impact on these search rankings – after all, all of the locations in the top ten are brilliant holiday destinations.
How’s your geography? Could you name every European country from the top of your head? Let us know on Twitter @eShores.
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