The Top 10 Reasons Why Now is the Right Time for the United States to Convert to the Metric System

A brochure from the 1970s. The last time we tried to switch to the metric system.

A brochure from the 1970s. The last time we tried to switch to the metric system.

1) More people in the United States are familiar with the metric system than at any period in our history.
The metric system was last introduced into the United States in the 1970s so baby boomers and every generation since have been taught the metric system even if they don’t use it every day. Only those in the “Silent” (1925-1945) and previous generations were not introduced to it as children. Folks 65 and older only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population so it’s safe to assume that 87 percent of U.S. citizens were taught the metric system at some point.1 More familiarity with it  by the vast majority of our population should make metric adoption easier.2

2) The United States continues to be far from first in math and science compared to the rest of the world. The easier to learn and use metric system could be of benefit.
According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study3, the United States rankings in math and science:

Math
4th grade students = 11th (http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/table11_2.asp)
8th grade students = 9th (http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/table11_3.asp)

Science
4th grade students = 7th (http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/table11_4.asp)
8th grade students = 10th  (http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/table11_5.asp)
Ranking

Countries seriously kicking us in the butt include Singapore, China, Korea and Japan (to name a few).

3) Lack of metric adoption presents a trade barrier in a world where China is perceived as the next economic superpower. We don’t want to fall more behind.
This has two parts:
a) For many years the European Union has threatened to stop the import of products with dual (U.S. customary and metric units) labels. While that doesn’t look imminent, any market closed to U.S. products due to a lack of metric units is a mistake. (See more on this topic, see this recent blog post.)

b) The rest of the world is shifting its sights away from the U.S. and toward China as the next economic superpower according to the nonpartisian Pew Research Center. In its report, aptly titled “China Perceived to be Overtaking U.S. as Leading Superpower”4 from last year states:

In 15 of 22 nations surveyed in a Pew Research study, pluralities or majorities of these publics believe that China either will replace or already has replaced the United States as the world’s leading superpower.

This idea that we can make the world go along with our outdated measurement system because we’re such an economic superpower is fading fast. We need to pull our heads out of our collective hubris hole.

4) Many Americans are already using the use metric system in everyday life. Switching over the rest of the way shouldn’t be that difficult.
– If you buy 1.5 liter bottle of your favorite soda, 750 ml of distilled spirits, or read the labels on many medical and food products, you’re already using liters and grams.
– If you travel outside of the country, you’ll encounter metric units since that’s what 95 percent of the world uses.
– Many hobbies entail using the metric system as well.
– Then there’s scientists, doctors and anything that deals with international trade—all metric.

It’s just stupid to continue to support two systems. Switchover problems? Too many other countries have managed it just fine so that’s a moot argument.

5) It’s time to stop handicapping our children.
First, we currently teach our students two systems: U.S. customary and metric. That’s classroom time wasted. Second, they’re taught units that do not logically relate to each other as metric units do. More classroom time wasted. Third, they grow up trying to remember that there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 2 pints in a quart (and so on). Trying to multiply and divide these awkward units means part of their lives are wasted.

Quick:
What’s one third of a liter?
What’s one third of a quart?
(Which measure should you even use? Cups? Tablespoons? Ounces? Ridiculous.)

6) At best, we’ll come in third to last in the metric race. Do we really want to trail so far behind?
The only other two countries that have not integrated the metric system into daily life are Burma and Liberia. For a country that prides itself on leading the way, we’ve sure gotten into the slow lane on this one. How sad would it be if one of these other countries managed to beat us out at metric adoption?

7) The strongest anti-metric organization in our history no longer exists.
For more than six decades5, the American Institute of Weights and Measures existed solely to halt metric adoption in this country. Not sure when it disappeared exactly but I hold in my hand an anti-metric book that it copyrighted as recently as 1981. Can’t find any current mention of it on the Internet. Good.

8) The current generation is more liberal and, therefore, more open to new ideas—including the metric system and a government that should make life better.
The millennials are more international than any previous generation. They routinely interact with people around the world on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, among others. They buy their illegal drugs in metric units and are much more likely to study abroad and travel out of the country. They don’t bat an eye at change. It’s part of their everyday lives.

In considering the role of the younger vote in the recent presidential election, the Pew Research Center also noted that:

Young voters continue to identify with the Democratic Party at relatively high levels and express more liberal attitudes on a range of issues – from gay marriage to the role of the federal government – than do older voters. In fact, voters under 30 were as likely to identify as Democrats in the 2012 exit poll as they had been in 2008 (44% now, 45% then). And they are the only age group in which a majority said that the government should do more to solve problems.6

9) There is already an undercurrent in metric system awareness in this country and people are actively seeking out information on the topic on their own.
It’s been more than 30 years since the United States disbanded the U.S. Metric Board, thereby officially dropping metric adoption. For whatever reason, it’s starting to occur to people that something is wrong and they’re actively trying to find out what’s happened. I anticipate that this interest will increase and we’ll reach “critical political mass.”

10) Social media is available to help propel metric system adoption forward.
Never before in our history has it been easier propagate ideas and information without buy in from the mainstream media. We can leverage social media to propel the idea of metric system adoption forward and connect with those who are likeminded to band together so that government becomes responsive to our needs. We are the future of the metric system.

One last thought…

Globalization is our reality and we need to be able to be able to communication with, and understand, each other. Common languages are the basis for such communication. We already have two examples of that: chess, and notation (scientific and musical). Let’s add one more language to the international stage: the metric system. For this last concept I give credit to my collaborator and project supporter: Robert Kwasny.

Notes:
1) http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html
2) This references constructivism learning theory. For more information, go to http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED396998&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED396998
3) http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/index.asp
4) http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/china-perceived-to-be-overtaking-u-s-as-leading-superpower/
5) http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50F17FD3B55157A93C2AB1789D85F438185F9
6) http://www.people-press.org/2012/11/26/young-voters-supported-obama-less-but-may-have-mattered-more/

6 thoughts on “The Top 10 Reasons Why Now is the Right Time for the United States to Convert to the Metric System

    • The goals for doing so, here, are undisclosed, apart from seeking some sort of political acceptance abroad. Notice that worker productivity and standard[s]-of-living, being quantum measurements ahead of what metric countries can show, aren’t part of the criteria. LOL.

  1. Another great post! Those all seem like good reasons to me. Be the first in your household to undergo personal metrication. After you pass the Terran System Exam, you can measure your progress with the free Metrication Progress CheckList on your journey towards becoming a Metric Pioneer. You can even register and share your progress with other people all around the United States who love SI. You can download a free DOC Word file of the checklist here: http://metricpioneer.com/progress-checklist/

  2. Pingback: American Culture and the Metric System: Part II |

  3. America is falling behind and like a car crash the rest of the world is just standing and watching.

    Around 58,000 manufacturing plants have closed in the US since 2001, no doubt all manufacturing is done using equipment that uses Metric International (SI) and all work manuals would be done using SI as well.

    Within a couple of years China will be the number one economy in the world with the US as number two, and by the end of the century it is thought that America will be the number three economy. This is when Americans will eventually realise that they are being left behind. By 2020 every country in Asia will have China as its largest trading partner, and of course all these countries use SI.

    Asian tech companies, such as Samsung, ASUS, Sony etc. use SI but Americans tech companies are trying to use imperial measurements in other countries, this is probably why Samsung is now the number one and Apple is now the number two. I have no idea how big an inch is so there is no way I am going to buy Apple or Hewlett Packard tech products.

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