Do Americans prefer the imperial or metric system of measurement?

Jamie BallardData Journalist
August 15, 2022, 12:30 PM GMT+0

A recent YouGov poll asked Americans whether they use imperial or metric measurements in a variety of scenarios. Imperial and metric represent the same quantity with different units. For example, the imperial system uses feet, inches, and miles to describe distances, while the metric system uses meters, centimeters, and kilometers instead.

While a recent YouGov poll in the UK found that Britons appear to switch between systems depending on the circumstance, Americans have a clear preference for the imperial system. It isn't unanimous, though.

The poll also found that Americans under 45 are far more likely than those 45 and older to go against the grain and use the metric system rather than the imperial system in a variety of circumstances. That said, imperial-system users outnumber metric-system users in every major age group.

Close to nine in 10 Americans (88%) say they would use feet and inches to describe someone’s height, while just 8% say they would use meters and centimeters for this. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 17% say they would use meters and centimeters for this; 16% of 30-to 44-year-olds agree. The proportion of metric users for height is much lower among 45- to 64-year-olds (2%) and Americans 65 and older (1%).

American and British adults under 30 have similar responses on this topic. Among Britons in this age group, 71% use feet and inches, while 18% use meters or centimeters.

Young American adults also are more likely than older Americans to use metric units for speeds. Across all major age groups, majorities would use miles per hour to describe the speed of a vehicle, but American adults under 45 are the most likely to say they would use kilometers per hour, at 15%. No more than 3% of those over 45 would use kilometers.

When asked about using miles or kilometers to describe a distance, 87% of Americans say they would use miles. Relatively few (8%) say they would use kilometers. As with other questions around measurements, 18- to 44-year-olds are more likely than Americans who are 45 or older to use the metric system (in this case, kilometers).

Americans also skew imperial on short distances, though younger adults are more metric-curious. While 86% of Americans say they would use yards, feet, and inches, just 8% would use meters and centimeters. About one in seven 18- to 44-year-olds (15%) say they would use meters and centimeters. Among older adults, only 2% say the same.

The UK is less united on this topic: 47% say they would use yards, feet, and inches for short distances while the same percentage would use meters and centimeters. The majority of Britons under 50 use meters and centimeters to describe short distances, while those 50 and older are more likely to use yards, feet, and inches.

If you ask an American for the temperature, 85% will answer in Fahrenheit, but 9% would tell you the temperature in Celsius. Americans between ages 18 and 29 are most likely of any major age group to use Celsius, at 17%, though even among the under-30 adult set, Fahrenheit is by far the most popular choice (70%).

In the UK, Fahrenheit fares well with just 19% of the population. Britons in their 70s and beyond are more likely to favor the use of this measurement, at 36%.

When asked about the weight of people and items, Americans continue to favor the imperial measuring system over metric.

Nearly nine in 10 Americans (88%) would refer to a person’s weight in pounds while 6% would use kilograms. Americans 18 to 29 years old are twice as likely as 30- to 44-year-olds to say they would use kilograms, at 16% to 8%. Even fewer 45- to 64-year-olds (2%) or people 65 and older (1%) would use kilograms.

Usage is similar for weight of items rather than people: 85% of Americans say they would sooner use pounds and ounces rather than kilograms and grams. Just 9% of Americans say they would use kilograms or grams, including 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds.

— Carl Bialik, Linley Sanders, and Taylor Orth contributed to this article.

Related YouGov UK article: Metric or imperial: what measures do Britons use?

This poll was conducted on June 1 - 5 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this YouGov poll. See the results from YouGov's related UK survey here.

Image: Photo by Gary Fultz on Unsplash

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