The research, published this week, investigated the attitudes of 90,000 14-year-olds to citizenship in 28 countries. It found that most rarely think about politics.
The majority of the 14-year-olds had a grasp of fundamental democratic values and institutions, but lacked in-depth understanding.
In questions about national identity, 80 per cent of English teenagers were proud of the UK's achievements and nearly 60 per cent said the Union Jack was important to them. However, a third did not take pride in the country's history and half said the national anthem was not important.
England was one of 10 countries, with Germany, Italy, Sweden and Latvia, that scored below average on their attitude to nationhood.
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement survey also revealed that the Sixties-style "sit-in" was a step too far for today's teenagers.
In England, nearly three quarters of 14-year-olds consider voting to be the most important part of being a good citizen. More than half said they would take part in a march or rally, but only 10 per cent of teenagers were prepared to take potentially illegal protest action, such as blocking traffic or occupying public buildings.
Health care, jobs, education, a decent standard of living and price control was seen as the central role of government in modern society.
The police were the most trusted government-related institution, followed by the courts. Schools topped the list of other institutions considered trustworthy, while the European Union and the Church were regarded with suspicion.
Citizenship education became compulsory in secondary schools this September. David Kerr, principal research officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research, which carried out the English study, said: "It is vital that the report's findings are looked at by schools as they provide pointers to effective citizenship."
The report is available at www.dfes.gov.ukresearch