Survey finds we are often wrong about crime, sex, climate change and the economy

Crime, violence, sex, climate change, the economy – we’re getting what we think we know about the world all wrong, according to a survey about global misperceptions.

The 2018 Perils of Misperception study published this month by Paris-headquartered Ipsos, a consultancy and market research firm, highlights various ways in which people across 37 countries are misinformed about key issues and features about their country.

Among the survey’s findings: People in every country surveyed significantly underestimate levels of sexual harassment. The largest gaps between perception and reality on this topic are in Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the United States.

For example, when respondents were asked to estimate how many out of every 100 women will say they have experienced a form of sexual harassment since the age of 15, in Denmark the average guess was 36. The actual figure is 80. In the U.S, the average guess was 51. The actual number was 81, a percentage difference of about a third.

In every country surveyed, men guessed lower than women for the level of sexual harassment women have experienced. Swedish men were the most wrong about that, followed by men in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Belgium. 

Every country vastly overestimated the proportion of unemployed people looking for a job. The average guess across the study was 34 percent, a number 5 times greater than the actual figure of 7 percent. Mexicans and Brazilians were particularly liable to guess incorrectly. The percentage difference between the average guess and the actual number was 47 percent too high. In the U.S., there was an 18 percent overestimate. 

The majority of countries hugely overestimate levels of immigration. The average guess across 37 countries is that 28 percent are immigrants when the actual figure is less than half that at 12 percent. In the U.S., people guess that 29 out of 100 people were immigrants (defined as not born in the U.S.). The actual number was 15. 

South Africans were especially prone to misdiagnosing the number of Muslims they believe to be living in their country. South Africans guessed that it was 26 out of 100 people. The actual figure is 2 out of every 100. The Malaysians are far too optimistic about what percentage (34 percent vastly overestimated this) of energy consumed in their countries comes from renewable sources such as wind or solar power. Every country underestimates how many of the past 18 years have been the hottest on record since 1961. The average guess was 9 years. It is 17 years. And the British think 18-29 year-olds are having far steamier sex lives than they actually do. They think young women are having sex 13 times every 4 weeks (it is 4-5 times) and young men are having sex 14 times every 4 weeks (the actual average is 5 times every 4 weeks). 

The survey, now in its fifth year, found that Thailand and Mexico are the two countries where people are the least accurate in their perceptions while those in Hong Kong and New Zealand are consistently the most accurate. The U.S. dropped seven places from its position in the survey last year to finish 23rd in 2018 in terms of overall accuracy.  







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