The Flat Earth movement clearly isn’t going away anytime soon. Although we’d argue that it’s not going to suddenly become a mainstream belief, it is concerning how discussed it is, and admittedly the coverage of it – from the scientifically whimsical to the ridiculous – probably isn’t helping by giving such beliefs a platform.
Still, it’s a phenomenon worth looking into, and a YouGov survey has done just that. The results are unsettling, and hopefully the work of a certain demographic not taking the questions particularly seriously.
Surveying 8,215 US adults – weighted to be representative of the entire US population – it suggests that just 84 percent have “always believed the world is round.” Among 18-24-year-olds, however, this percentage falls to 66 percent, though it continually rises through various age groups to reach a peak of 94 percent for 55+.
The thought that just two-thirds of young adults in America accept that the planet is an oblate spheroid is deeply concerning, but wait – there’s more. Five percent of US adults have always thought the world was round, but have become more skeptical as of late. This number rises to 9 percent among 18-24-year-olds.
In contrast, 2 percent of all those surveyed have “always believed the world is flat”, which rises to 4 percent among 18-24-year-olds. Seven percent of the total answered “other/not sure”, which rises to 16 percent in 18-24-year-olds.
Generally speaking, the older someone in the US someone is, the less likely they are to have any Flat Earth beliefs. In this sense, then, the trend is the opposite for the acceptance of the theory of evolution in its most basic form, with older people less likely to accept that life has evolved over time.
Other curiosities pop out of the YouGov survey. Slightly fewer Democrats (83 percent) have always believed the world is round, compared to Republicans (89) or independents (88). Slightly more men have always believed the world is round (86) compared to women (83). People earning $80,000 per annum are more likely to accept the correct shape of Earth (92) than those earning $40-80,000 (87) or under $40,000 (79).
No part of the US (Northwest, South, etc.) has more dyed-in-the-wool Flat Earthers than any other; it’s 2 percent throughout.
Most flat-Earthers, perhaps less surprisingly, are very religious (52 percent). A recent study found links between types of cognitive biases and various viewpoints. Religious conservatives were found to “consistently display a low faith in science and an unwillingness to support science” in general, although flat Earth-specific beliefs weren’t analyzed.
It’s not clear at present why 18-24-year-olds are more likely than others to doubt the shape of the planet. It’s possible that the current political climate of post-truth along with the misuse of social media are fueling the fires, but this is uncomfortably juxtaposed with the fact that Millennials – a loosely defined group of young adults that often mistakenly includes teenagers – are better educated than the last three generations of Americans.