In 2013, the UK Metric Association (UKMA) commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey into the UK’s measurement muddle. The results were reported on Metric Views at that time. We now look at a follow-up survey carried out two years later.
In June 2015, the major influential polling firm YouGov carried out a survey on the British measurement muddle and metric usage. The headline on their survey page was, “Britain’s metric muddle not changing anytime soon”. It is worth quoting the first two paragraphs of the YouGov survey page in full:
“For some things we use metric measurements and other things we use imperial – and in most areas the younger generations are just as confused.
In policy terms metrication (converting to the metric system of measurement) makes perfect sense. The existence of two systems is an unecessary [sic] complication, and unhelpful to standardising medicine and technology. In Britain, metrication was formally endorsed by the government in 1965, but the imperial system is still commonly used. The mix confuses shoppers, children and holiday makers.”
The YouGov survey confirms what UKMA has been saying for years. It shows the extent of the British metric muddle and reports that usage of metric units is increasing in some areas but not in others. The metric system has been taught generally in British schools since the early seventies, and for science for over a century. All examination boards require pupils to know the metric system. Yet YouGov reported that 60% of 18-24 years do not know their weight in kilograms and 54% of them did not know their height in centimetres. Results were similar for the 25-39 age groups and worse in both categories for older age groups.
There is widespread adoption of metric units for cooking, for example, and for expressing short distances. However, non-metric miles dominate for long distances. Among total survey respondents, 89% said that they would use miles to describe long distances.
Respondents were asked which measurement system is better. This gave some interesting results where more said that the metric system is better compared to imperial. In response to the question about the better system, 36% said that the metric system is better, 30% said that the imperial system is better, 27% said both are about the same (i.e. equally good) and 7% said “Don’t know”.
We could still say the same words today about the metric muddle and would likely find very similar survey results. In terms of the UK’s measurement muddle, little has changed in the last five years. Not so much “plus ca change”, more “toujours la meme chose”.
You can find the YouGov page and survey results on Britain’s measurement muddle at: