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Perils of perception 2015

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The full Ipsos “Index of Ignorance” is given in the table below. Mexico and India receive the dubious honour of being the most inaccurate in their perceptions on these issues, while South Koreans are the most accurate, followed by the Irish. There are some regional patterns in this table – for example Latin American countries tend to be more inaccurate, European and Americans more accurate – but this hides individual differences, and is not the whole story. New Zealand is the least accurate of the developed countries (in the top five most ignorant), while China is in the top 5 most accurate.

Perceptions are not reality: what the world gets wrong

By Bobby Duffy and  James Stannard

Published:2 December 2015
Fieldwork:1 – 16 October 2015

Ipsos MORI’s latest version of the Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the public across 33 countries are about some key issues and features of the population in their country.

In Great Britain we get a lot of things very wrong …

  1. The wealth that the top 1% own: we massively overestimate the proportion of wealth that the wealthiest 1% own. The average guess is 59% when the actual figure is 23%. In fact, Britain is the most wrong on this out of any of the 33 countries included in the study. And when asked what % they think the wealthiest 1% SHOULD own, the public say on average 20%, only slightly below the actual figure.
  2. Obesity: weight is a growing public health issue, but our survey suggests we aren’t as worried about it as we should be. Britons think 44% of those aged over 20 are overweight or obese, but the actual figure is much higher at 62%.
  3. The non-religious population: we hugely over-estimate the proportion of atheists, agnostics and those who do not affiliate themselves with any religion – the average guess is 45% when the actual figure is almost half that (25%).
  4. Immigration: we think 25% of the population are immigrants – nearly twice the actual figure of 13%.
  5. 25-34 year-olds living with parents: perhaps reflecting concern about the difficulties young people face getting on the housing ladder, we hugely overestimate the proportion of 25-34 year olds who still live with their parents. The average guess is 43%, which is three times the actual figure of just 14%.
  6. Average age: we think the British population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is 51 years old, when the average age is only 40. The widespread discussion of our ageing population seems to have stuck with people.
  7. Population aged under 14: despite the perception that the population is on average older than it actually is, Britons also greatly overestimate proportion of the population aged under 14, at 27% – much higher than the real figure of 17%.
  8. Female politicians: we slightly underestimate the number of female MPs in the House of Commons. The average guess is 23% when the actual figure is 29%.
  9. Female employment: Britons correctly guess that most women are in work, although slightly underestimate the real figure. On average we think 60% of working age women are in employment when the real figure is 68%.
  10. Rural living: Britons think that many more of us live in rural areas than really do – and by implication underestimate how urban our population is. On average, the public guess that 30% of the population lives in rural areas, when the actual figure is only 18%.
  11. Internet access: The explosion in internet access we’ve seen over recent years is well documented, but even so Britons slightly underestimate how widespread it is. On average, we guess that eight in ten (81%) of us have access to the internet at home through a computer or mobile device, when the actual figure is 90%.

But Britain is far from the worst in identifying realities about our country – in fact we come mid-table in our “Index of Ignorance”. Looking across the 33 countries included, many are even more wrong …

  1. The top 1%: most developed countries greatly overestimate the proportion of adult wealth the wealthiest 1% in their country own. Britain is the most inaccurate (estimating it to be 59%, over twice the real figure of 23%), but France, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Canada are all at least 30 percentage points out of line. A few countries, though, underestimate how much of their country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1% – Peru, India, Israel, Brazil and Russia (where the top 1% actually own an incredible 70% of all wealth). There is a lot of variation between the countries on what they think the figure should be, though most of them think it should be lower than it really is – with Russia again standing out as having the highest gap between the amount of wealth they think the top 1% should acceptably own (23%) and the true figure (70%).
  2. Obesity/overweight: Nearly every country we surveyed underestimates how much of a problem weight is in their country. The average guess for the proportion of overweight or obese people is 40%, which is much lower than the actual figure of 54%. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel are the most inaccurate, underestimating the prevalence of overweight and obese people by a massive 43, 33 and 33 percentage points respectively. The only countries that prove the exception are India, Japan, China and South Korea, all nations...MORE


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