People in India, China and Taiwan know the least about their homelands.
The Dutch, British and South Koreans know the most.
That’s according to an Ipsos MORI “Perils of Perception” survey, which asked respondents from 40 economies a set of five questions and ranked them in order of how close to the truth they got.
The questions covered aspects such as what people thought the size of their population was, what proportion of the population was Muslim, what percentage of GDP was spent on healthcare, what percentage of wealth is owned by the poorest, and how many owned their own home.
Size of population
When it came to population size, most respondents were fairly accurate – within around 5%.
Germans got it exactly right, and at the other end of the scale citizens of Hong Kong and Singapore were out by 10%.
When asked what percentage of the population was Muslim, most overestimated. France, South Africa and the Philippines were way off, by as much as 24%.
Turkey and Indonesia were the only ones that underestimated the percentage of Muslims in their populations.
On average, citizens of every single economy thought that their government spent more of their GDP on healthcare than is actually the case.
Indonesians thought it was 39%. The actual figure was only 3%.
Malaysians, Thais and Indians were all around 25% out. Poles, Russians and Hungarians were the closest to the actual figure, out by under 5%.
When asked what percentage of total wealth was owned by the poorest, most people thought that wealth was more evenly distributed than it actually is.
On average across these 40 economies, just 15% of total wealth is owned by the bottom 70% – but the average guess is almost twice that, at 29%.
Some countries are incredibly inaccurate: Indians think this group owns 39% of their country’s wealth when the actual figure is just 10%.
The US is also significantly out: Americans think the bottom 70% own 28% of their country’s wealth, when in fact it’s a quarter of that, at 7%.
But when it comes to home-ownership, we think far fewer people own their own home than actually do.
We think just 49% of people own or are buying their home, when in fact 68% are owner-occupiers across these economies.
Indians are the most wrong about this, thinking that only 44% own or are buying their home, when in fact it’s 87%.
People are more tolerant than we think
The survey included a further seven questions about attitudes, such as asking people to guess what percentage of their fellow citizens thought that sex between unmarried adults and homosexuality was morally unacceptable. The results showed that societies were far more tolerant than people thought.
For instance, in 27 economies citizens thought that far more people were intolerant towards homosexuality than they actually were, from between a 31% difference in the Netherlands to a 4% difference in China.
People were also often wrong about their fellow citizens’ attitudes to sex between unmarried couples. People in the Netherlands overestimated it by 29%, though only 3% overestimated it in the US. Only one got it right – Argentina.
Far more people thought their fellow countrymen found abortion morally unacceptable than was the case.
People in 12 economies underestimated how their fellow citizens felt about abortion, and the rest all overestimated.
People are happier than we think
Respondents were asked what percentage of their population said they were happy.
Without exception, people thought their fellow citizens were less happy than they actually were. Hong Kong and South Korea were two-thirds (61% and 66% respectively) out from the actual figure.
Canadians, Norwegians and the Dutch were much more optimistic, but even then, they were 27-28% out.
Where do we go wrong?
Ipsos MORI says there are various reasons why we get the numbers wrong, from struggling with simple maths and proportions, to the coverage by the media on certain issues. It also includes factors such as social psychology, in other words, our own biases.
“We are often most incorrect on factors that are widely discussed in the media, such as the proportion of our population that are Muslims and wealth inequality,” says IPSOS Mori. “We know from previous studies that this is partly because we overestimate what we worry about.”
The economies that do worst also have a low number of people using the internet. “Given this is an online survey, this will reflect the fact that this more middle-class and connected population think the rest of their countries are more like them than they really are,” says the research firm.
The results were based on quizzing 27,250 people between the ages of 16 and 64. You can take the quiz here http://perils.ipsos.com/quiz/.