A recent Ipsos Mori survey carried out across 33 countries revealed that there was a significant gap between what we think we know about our own country and what the reality is.

The study revealed that in certain misconceptions in particular people were prone to overestimate or underestimate.

People underestimate obesity levels.

People underestimate obesity levels. Image by Christopher Dombres / CC BY 2.0

Of the 33 countries surveyed, 29 underestimated levels of obesity. In the US people believe half of the population is obese, whilst two-thirds of it is. In the UK people believe 44% of the population is overweight, whilst in fact it’s 62%. The greatest gap between people’s perception and reality was in Saudi Arabia, where those surveyed believed that less than three-in-ten people are overweight, whilst in reality over seven-in-ten people are overweight.

The issue of immigration was one where people’s perceptions were once again quite skewed. 30 of 33 countries surveyed overestimated the amount of immigrants living in their country at the time of polling. Among these Argentina, Brazil and South Africa overstated the levels of immigration most by almost 25%.

Survey shows gap between reality and perception of household wealth.

Survey shows gap between reality and perception of household wealth. Image by epSos.de / CC BY 2.0

Another category that was polled was perceptions of household wealth. In the UK people were most likely to overestimate the total household wealth held by the top one per cent. They believe 59 per cent is held by the top percentile, whilst in reality it is 23 per cent. Russians on the other hand underestimated the total household wealth of the top percentiles, with people estimating it to be 53% of the total household wealth whilst in reality it is 70%.

The other two areas surveyed were levels of agnosticism and the age of leaving home. Most countries overestimate the number of people who are atheist the survey showed. Only in Japan and in South Korea did people underestimate how many atheists there were. The greatest gap in perception was in India, where people thought a third of the population identified as atheist whilst in reality it is less than 0.1%.

Most countries overestimate levels of agnosticism and atheism

Most countries overestimate levels of agnosticism and atheism Image by Courtney Carmody / CC BY 2.0

A smaller group of countries were surveyed about the number of young people living at home. In the UK people thought that 43% of people lived at home, when in reality only 14% do. In Spain, where people leave family later and 40 per cent of the young population still lives at home, people thought two-thirds of the population still lived at home.

The survey then looked at which countries had been most accurate in their self-perception, and which ones had been most off.  South Korea was the country whose perceptions were closest to reality followed by Ireland and Poland. The countries with the greatest gap between perception and reality were Mexico, India and Brazil.