Most countries have adopted the metric system as their official system of measurement. There are only three countries in the world that do not use the metric system for official measurement. The United States, Burma (Myanmar) and Liberia all depend on older systems of measurements. Within these countries, however, the metric system is often used, especially in scientific and international contexts. Additionally, some other countries use other measurement systems alongside the metric system.
Metric System History
First adopted by revolutionary-era France in 1799, the metric system initially spread through Europe before implementation throughout the world. Some countries simply replaced older systems, often forcibly, while others gradually implemented the metric system alongside other measurements. Many countries faced difficulties and protests with metric introduction. In countries such as the United States, massive protest and anticipated high conversion costs have effectively shut down all attempts at metric implementation.
Measuring the Benefits
For international and scientific purposes, virtually all countries use the metric system, no matter what the official governmental position on the matter. Use of the metric system allows for product export and import with metric countries, easier international travel and easier exchange of information and ideas. Countries rejecting total or partial implementation of the metric system typically weigh these benefits against conversion costs. Arguments against the metric system also claim that the continued use of traditional measurement systems allows for greater productivity.
Geographical considerations factor into the use of the metric system by many countries. Canada, for example, due to geographic proximity and constant trade with the nonmetric United States, has widespread nonmetric measurements. For example, most cooking measurements are not metric. Proponents of the United Kingdom's continued use of nonmetric measurements stress the country's physical separation from the rest of the European Union.
In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, the use of the metric system can become a political issue. While the United Kingdom officially uses the metric system, common measurements like produce weights and road distances tend to follow the older Imperial system. Potential forced implementation of the metric system in both countries has led to organized protests both for and against the system.
Adoption Vs. Reality
Choosing not to adopt the metric system does not necessarily mean that the metric system is not used, while adopting the metric system does not mean the system is in use in the country. Goods and services in Burma and Liberia often use the metric system, due to a high volume of imports. Conversely, countries such as Ghana have failed to widely use the metric system, despite frequent regulation in favor of it.
Laurel Brown has several years experience as an educator and a writer. She won the 2008 Reingold Prize for writing in the history of science. Brown has a Ph.D. and Master of Arts in the history of science and Middle Eastern studies from Columbia University, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in astrophysics from Colgate University.