New literacy challenge for the twenty-first century: genetic knowledge is poor even among well educated

Robert Chapman, Maxim Likhanov, Fatos Selita, Ilya Zakharov, Emily Smith-Woolley, Yulia Kovas*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


We live in an age of rapidly advancing genetic research. This research is generating new knowledge that has implications for personal health and well-being. The present study assessed the level of genetic knowledge and personal engagement with genetics in a large sample (N = 5404) of participants. Participants received secondary education in 78 countries, with the largest samples from Russia, the UK and the USA. The results showed significant group differences in genetic knowledge between different countries, professions, education levels and religious affiliations. Overall, genetic knowledge was poor. The questions were designed to assess basic genetic literacy. However, only 1.2% of participants answered all 18 questions correctly, and the average score was 65.5%. Genetic knowledge was related to peoples’ attitudes towards genetics. For example, those with greater genetic knowledge were on average more willing to use genetic knowledge for their personal health management. Based on the results, the paper proposes a number of immediate steps that societies can implement to empower the public to benefit from ever-advancing genetic knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Community Genetics
Early online date28 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Mar 2018


  • Demographic differences
  • Genetic knowledge
  • Genetic literacy
  • Genetic testing
  • Health


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