17% of Americans don't know how to swim (2023)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A recent study by ValuePenguin of LendingTree indicates that while swimming is a popular summertime activity, fewer Americans know how to swim than you might think.

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ValuePenguin’s data indicates that 72% of Americans plan on hitting the pool this summer, a rate that has possibly increased from last year due to easing COVID-19 restrictions. Despite this love for the pool, data shows that 17% of Americans can’t swim. That’s almost one in five Americans.

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Even more surprising is that 40% of Americans said to ValuePenguin that they “wouldn’t feel comfortable saving a struggling swimmer.” Their report also shows that only 19% of Americans have an active CPR certification, which can save lives at the poolside.

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ValuePenguin also writes that the top safety-related incident poolside is slipping and falling outside—but near—the pool. They suggest a fence around a pool, pool alarms, and pool covers to help mitigate slip and fall related injury at the pool.

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Interestingly, ValuePenguin’s cross sectional data indicates that families with low-income are more likely to experience risk at a swimming pool. They contend that this is most likely because lower-income families resort to informal swim training instead of professional swim training, which can sometimes be expensive.

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In an article published in 2018, the Utah Department of Health reported that on average, 26 Utahns die from unintentional drownings each year. Their data supports that of ValuePenguin, indicating that Utahns aged 0-4 have the highest rates of drowning deaths.

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Nationwide, the CDC reports an estimated 3,900 fatal drownings. Their website provides a list of guidelines to keep you and your family safe while enjoying warm weather and the water this summer

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17% of Americans don't know how to swim? ›

About 1 in 5 (17%) Americans don't know how to swim. Income may play a factor in a person's ability to swim — among those with household incomes below $35,000, 23% say they're unable to swim. Meanwhile, just 11% of consumers with household incomes of $100,000-plus report the same.

How common is not knowing how do you swim? ›

According to a recent Leslie's-commissioned survey conducted by The Harris Poll, only 63% of U.S. adults say they are very comfortable being around water, and as much as 36% of those surveyed say they do not know how to swim. The numbers are even more alarming for children.

Why do so many people don't know how to swim? ›

Some people cant swim as they've never been allowed the opportunity to learn to swim. Not everyone has easy access to a place to learn to swim safely. Some may never want to learn to swim as they may have fears for the water or of not being able to learn to swim or have experienced a near drowning.

What percentage of people can't float? ›

The science of swimming

With very few exceptions, everyone floats, however most people think they are that exception when in reality 99,9% are not. It is the degree of flotation and how easy it is to float that is influenced by your body's make-up. People usually float to varying degrees and in varying ways.

Do some adults not know how do you swim? ›

So as adult, it's easy to assume that everyone has the ability to swim. It's like riding a bike! Everyone knows how to do it! Except that no, not all of us exactly know how to swim. Some adults can't swim and as such, they get an earful (but not a swimmer's ear because they're not swimmers!

What percent of adults don t know how to swim? ›

Despite this love for the pool, data shows that 17% of Americans can't swim. That's almost one in five Americans.

Do humans naturally know how do you swim? ›

Most mammals are able to swim instinctively without training; a notable exception being the great apes. Humans are clearly able to become proficient swimmers with training; other great apes, however, have not been documented as swimmers beyond anecdotal reports.

Is it embarrassing to not be able to swim? ›

There are plenty of adults learning to swim, and there's nothing to be embarrassed about. If you can't swim, you need lessons. Adult swimming lessons are perfectly normal. Just do it.

Why is it so hard for people to learn to swim? ›

Water is much denser than air, so there is much more resistance preventing people from being able to move through it quickly and freely. This makes it so much more difficult compared to other land sports. Additionally, the water temperature often affects how swimmers perform.

Does everyone have the ability to swim? ›

Not being able to swim is way more common than you thought. No, it does not happen only to adults and yes, rich countries are also greatly affected.

How many Americans know how do you swim? ›

Overall, the survey finds that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can't swim or don't have all of the basic swimming skills. Other key survey findings are: About one in three (33 percent) African Americans reports that they can perform all five basic swimming skills, compared to 51 percent of whites.

Is it harder to float if you're skinny? ›

Generally speaking people that are muscular, lean or thin will tend to sink and those that have a wider surface area or a larger body fat percentage will usually remain afloat for longer. It's all down to your 'relative density' and that is most likely the reason you are not able to float.

Do muscular people float less? ›

Muscles are generally denser than water and cause us to sink. Fat is less dense than water party because it contains oil, which floats on water. Therefore fat floats. Those of us with a higher fat to muscle ratio will tend to float.

What do you call a person who doesn't know how do you swim? ›

non·​swim·​mer ˌnän-ˈswi-mər. plural nonswimmers. : one who is not a swimmer : someone who lacks the ability or skill to swim.

Is it harder to learn to swim as you get older? ›

It is not too late to learn to swim if you are above 20 or 25 or 30. It won't be easy but is not impossible to learn even starting at age 36. With focussed effort and time, you can learn to swim. And this applies to learning any skill.

Why don't we naturally know how to swim? ›

Why can't humans instinctively swim like many mammals? Because humans are apes. Most land animals can instinctively swim using doggy paddle, propel itself across water surface with four legs treading water and the head kept above water.

When did it become common to know how do you swim? ›

Swimming didn't emerge as a popular sport or past time until the early 19th century. A National Swimming Society was formed in the UK, with competitions being held towards the end of that century.

Can everyone learn how do you swim? ›

With adult learners, everyone is unique. Some find it natural to be in the water while for others, it's a scary process. There is no set timeframe – but with enough practice, dedication and positive thinking, there's no reason why every adult can't learn to swim.

Why do kids not know how do you swim? ›

Fear is listed as the top reason for not learning how to swim both as a child and as an adult. Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) report that they have had an experience where they were afraid they might drown.


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