Life is a duel between perception and reality.

Far too often when I listen to talk back radio I am incensed by what I hear. There are talkback announcers who happily create and perpetuate myths about society, immigration and a host of other topical issues without any knowledge of the reality.

Ipsos Mori is a company that does a lot of research in a number of countries and compares the reality with the perceptions of the community. From the Ipsos Mori website comes the following statement:

“At Ipsos we are passionately curious about people, markets, brands and society. We deliver information and analysis that makes our complex world easier and faster to navigate and inspires our clients to make smarter decisions.”

So I started examining some of the research that they issue. Let’s first look at the work they have done in Great Britain:

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

  1. Teenage pregnancy: the British think one in six (16%) of all teenage girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, when the actual figure is only 3%.
  2. Muslims: we hugely over-estimate the proportion of Muslims in Britain – we think one in five British people are Muslims (21%) when the actual figure is 5% (one in twenty).
  3. Christians: in contrast, we underestimate the proportion of Christians – we think 39% of the country identifies themselves as Christian compared with the actual figure of 59%.
  4. Immigration: we think 24% of the population are immigrants – which is nearly twice the real figure of 13%.
  5. Ageing population: we think the British population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 37% of the population are 65+, when it is in fact only 17%.
  6. Voting: we underestimate the proportion of the electorate that voted in the last general election – the average guess is 49% when the official turnout was much higher at 66%.
  7. Unemployment: we think nearly 24% of the working age population are unemployed when the actual figure is much lower at 7%.
  8. Life expectancy: we overestimate our life expectancy by three years, thinking the average for a child born in 2014 will be 83 years, when the actual estimate is 80 years.
  9. Murder rates: we are however one of the best informed countries on the murder rate: 49% saying it is falling (which is correct), and only 25% think it is rising”

And now for the rest of the World:

“But the rest of the world is just as wrong…

  1. Teenage birth rates: on average, people across the 14 countries think that 15% of teenagers aged 15-19 give birth each year. This is 12 times higher than the average official estimate of 1.2% across these countries. People in the US guess at a particularly high rate of teenage births, estimating it at 24% of all girls aged 15-19 when it’s actually 3%. But other countries with very low rates of teenage births are further out proportionally: for example, Germans think that 14% of teenage girls give birth each year when it’s actually only 0.4% (35x the actual figure).
  2. Muslims: people across just about all countries hugely overestimate the proportion of their population that are Muslim: the average guess across the countries is 16% when the actual proportion is 3%. For example, on average people in France think 31% of the population are Muslim, when the actual figure is only 8%. In Australia the average guess is nine times the actual proportion: people estimate it at 18%, when the actual proportion is only 2%.
  3. Christians: in contrast, majority-Christian countries tend to underestimate how many people count themselves as Christian. In the 12 majority-Christian countries in the survey, the average guess is 51%, when the actual proportion counting themselves as Christians is 61%. This includes countries like the US where people think 56% are Christian when official data shows it is 78%.
  4. Immigration: across the 14 countries, the public think immigration is over twice the actual level – the average guess is that 24% of the population was born abroad, when the actual figure is 11%. This includes some massive overestimates: the US public think 32% of the population are immigrants when the actual is 13%; in Italy the public think 30% are immigrants when it’s actually 7%; and in Belgium the public think it’s 29% when it’s actually 10%.
  5. Ageing population: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 39% of the population are 65+, when only 18% are. Italians are particularly wrong on this – on average, they think nearly half the population (48%) are 65+, when it is actually 21%.
  6. Voting: every country in the study underestimates the proportion of the electorate who voted in their last major election. The average guess is that 58% voted, when in fact 72% did. The French in particular are too pessimistic about the extent of democratic engagement: estimating that only 57% of the electorate voted in the Presidential election, when in fact 80% did.
  7. Unemployment: people tend to greatly overestimate the extent of unemployment in their countries. The average guess is 30%, when the actual figure is 9%. This includes some huge overestimates, for example in Italy, where the average guess is that 49% are unemployed, compared with an actual rate of 12%.
  8. Life expectancy: this is one area where on average we have a much better grasp of reality. Across the 14 countries, the average life expectancy for a child born this year is estimated to be 80 years, when across these countries as a whole it’s actually 81 years. However, there is still a wide range between countries: people in South Korea are too optimistic, expecting the average life expectancy to be 89 years, compared with an actual of 80 years; but Hungarians are too pessimistic, only expecting 68 years, when the average is predicted to be 75 years.
  9. Murder rates: 49% of people across the countries think that the murder rate is rising and only 27% think it is falling – when in fact in all countries in the study, the murder rate is actually falling. The British are the most likely to have an accurate view of murder rate trends: 49% think it’s falling and only 25% think it’s rising.”

And specifically looking at Australia and its perceptions reveals the following:

“While Mexicans were the least accurate, and South Koreans the most, Australians came 15th, Ipsos found.

Here’s what we got wrong:

  1. The rich are getting richer, but not as much as we think. Australians massively overestimate the proportion of household wealth that the wealthiest 1 per cent own, Ipsos found. The average guess is that the wealthiest 1 per cent own 54 per cent of our wealth. The actual figure is 21 per cent. Australia was the third least accurate on this out of any of the 33 countries included in the study. Ipsos’ Australia director David Elliott said media coverage caused the public to overestimate the prevalence of an issue.
  2. Hail Mary – we are more religious than we think.  Australians “hugely over-estimate” the proportion of atheists, agnostics and those who do not affiliate themselves with any religion, Ipsos found. The average guess is 45 per cent. The actual figure is 24 per cent. The public in Latin American countries were the worst when it came to thinking their countries were more religious than they were: Mexican and Brazilians overestimated by 30 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.
  3. We are fatter than we realise. Australians on average believe that 51 per cent of those aged over 20 are overweight or obese. The actual figure is 62 per cent. Australia, though, is more self aware about obesity than many other countries. New Zealanders believe that 47 per cent of those aged over 20 are overweight or obese. The actual figure is 66 per cent.
  4. ​We are not as multicultural as we think.  Australians on average believe that 38 per cent of the population are immigrants. The actual figure is 28 per cent. Ipsos found we are more accurate than two-thirds of nations. The biggest overestimation by the public is in countries with low levels of immigration including Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Peru.
  5. We are younger than we think. When asked about the average age of the Australian population, the average response was 48. In fact, the average age is only 38. The widespread discussion of our ageing population seems to have stuck with people.
  6. There are fewer young people than we think. Despite the perception that the population is, on average, older than it actually is, Australians also greatly overestimate the proportion of the population aged under 14 at 27 per cent – much higher than the real figure of 18 per cent.
  7. There are more women in the workforce than we think. Australians on average think 55 per cent of working age women are in employment when the real figure is 66 per cent. Only New Zealand, Germany, South Korea and Israel had larger underestimations of the proportion of women in work.
  8. More of us live in the cities than we believe. Australians on average overestimate the number of people who live on the land and in rural areas, and underestimate how urban our population is. The public guess is that 26 per cent of the population are based in rural areas. The actual figure is only 11 per cent. Yee haw … not.
  9. Nearly all of us are online. Australians estimate that 82 per cent of us have access to the internet at home through a computer or mobile device. The actual figure is 90 per cent. Ipsos used a variety of sources for its data, including the census, the ABS and the Australian Electoral Commission.

And if you want to see how up to date you are with your perceptions of Australia you could take the quiz that IPSOS MORI offer on their website here: I did the quiz and I got 9/10. Your turn now!

Back to throwing things at the radio and the talk back commentators!

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