How Many People Can’t Swim?

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Most people cannot swim. There is a lot of inequality when it comes to access to swimming. Access primarily affects women and the poor. It especially affects these people in poorer areas with a high concentration of ethnic minorities.

Being unable to swim is often not a choice but actually due to a lack of resources. It can also be due to biological as well as mental reasons.

Swimming is something that can be difficult to pick up and is often pushed to the side for more important activities. It may be an essential skill, but it is hard to do.

Woman training a little oy how to swim - How Many People Can't Swim?

What Percentage of the Population Can’t Swim?

The majority of the population cannot swim. Specifically, 55% of the population, ages 15 and up, is estimated to be unable to swim. Furthermore, among this percentage, women are less likely to know how to swim than men.

68% of women cannot swim unassisted, while only 43% of men cannot swim unassisted. This means that while most of the population cannot swim, most of them are women. This inequality is mainly made up in North and East Africa as well as East Asia.

Women are much less likely to be able to swim in the areas above – as much as 83% of women.


Woman training a little oy how to swim - How Many People Can't Swim?


What Percent of Adults Can Swim?

The percentage of adults who cannot swim is 56%. This is an increase from the overall population percentage of people who cannot swim. Once again, among this percentage, the majority of the people who cannot swim are women.

However, another contributing factor among adults is economic status. Poorer communities are much less likely than richer communities to know how to swim.

In low-income areas, 72% of adults cannot swim, while only 24% of adults in high-income areas don’t know how to swim.


Why Can’t So Many People Swim?

One of the biggest reasons why a majority of people cannot swim could be a fear of water (also known as aquaphobia). Up to 70% of nonswimmers have been found to have a fear of the water for one reason or another.

Another reason is many nonswimmers are affected by negative buoyancy. This means that some people do not have enough body fat to be able to float and are heavier than the water, making it harder to float or swim.

The last reason is a lack of access to resources. Many people do not have access to open water, swimming lessons, swimming gear, etc., to learn how to swim. As a result, learning how to swim is simply not an option for some people.


How Long Does it Take to Learn to Swim?

On average, it takes an adult about 20 to 25 hours to learn how to swim. This is with private lessons. To calculate that out, it would take a 30-minute lesson per week for a full year to learn basic swimming skills.

These numbers are based on adults who have average learning capabilities. These adults also would have to have none of the restrictions mentioned above and be moderately fit.

This shows how difficult it can be for the average person to learn how to swim. The majority of people do not have the time or capability to learn how to swim.


Can you Forget Swimming?

No, as an adult, you cannot forget how to swim. Once your motor skills are fully developed, your brain instinctively holds onto that information. You can lose your strength after not swimming for a while, but not the ability to.

This is because swimming is stored in the part of the brain that retains information after repetition. Just like learning how to ride a bike is often stored in the brain and never forgotten.

However, if you learned how to swim when you were a child and your brain was not fully developed, it is common to forget how to swim because of where the information is stored in the juvenile brain.


Final Thoughts On How Many People Can’t Swim

Swimming is a very difficult skill to learn. It is physically taxing on most people but completely unavailable to others. Inaccessibility, discrimination, as well as biological and mental factors all, play into why so few people can swim.

While swimming is difficult to learn and takes a lot of time and resources, it is an essential survival skill that everyone could benefit from. The good news is that once you learn, you will have that ability ingrained into your body and never have to learn it again.