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Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Ignorance Rankings" of twenty-eight countries

Ipsos MORI, a UK market research firm, did over 25,000 online interviews asking people questions about wealth distribution in their country, obesity rates, and what percentage of citizens identified with no religion and other questions.

The answers were ranked in terms of the degree to which answers deviated from the actual rates. Ipsos MORI lists the results with the questions in a 30-page set of charts easily readable. Many articles on the report talk of "ignorance rankings" but in quite appropriate scare quotes as one cannot really expect people to know the correct answer. I have my headline as showing which countries are good and bad guessers on these issues but that is not quite appropriate either, since the report gives some idea how far away from the actual facts peoples' opinions on the questions asked are in different countries. There is also a final "ignorance ranking" of 28 countries indicating how they fare overall in their answers. Mexico is judged number one in the ranking which means it is the worst.
One question asked is " How much percentage of total household wealth do the top 1 percent of households hold?" Countries are ranked in terms of how much higher or lower the average of the answers is from the actual percentage. The UK was on the top end of the scale of countries whose guesses were too high. The UK thought the top one percent of households held 59 percent of the wealth whereas they actually only hold 23 percent. In contrast, Russians erred most in underestimating the amount held by the one percent thinking that it was 53 percent when it is actually a whopping 70 percent. Canadians erred on the upside thinking that the one percent has 55 percent of the wealth whereas it is actually just 25 percent. Americans too guessed too high at 57 percent when it is actually 37 percent. Mexicans who are ranked "most ignorant" on the general ignorance index had a perfect score on this question with the actual percentage being 36 while the average answer was the same.
A followup question asks: "How much do you think that the top one percent of households should earn as a percentage of total household wealth?" The answers to this question surely have nothing at all to do with ignorance since the right answer should be simply your own opinion. The actual percentage is not necessarily what it should be. However, it is interesting to find out whether people in a country think that the percentage going to the top one percent should be more or less. Only a few countries think the percentage should be less. New Zealand is the country which thinks that the rich ought to be richer and have 27 percent of the total household wealth when in fact they only had 18 percent, one of the lower percentages among countries. Russians thought their one percent should have 23 percent of total household wealth whereas they actually have 70 percent. This was the largest spread. Canadians thought that the top one percent should have 26 percent of the total whereas the actual amount is 25 percent. Americans thought that one percent should have 27 percent when they actually have 37 percent.
On the question of how many people in a country over 20 were obese, India was the worst guesser on the upside, thinking 41 percent were obese when the actual rate is just 20 percent. On the underestimation side, Saudis thought that only 28 percent were obese where the actual rate is 71 percent. On the issue of what percentage of citizens do not identify with any religion, India again was the furthest off the actual facts. Only 0.1 percent of its citizens do not identify with any religion while they think 33 per cent do not. Countries with very high estimations of those who did not identify with any religion were China, South Korea, and Japan. Almost every country except Japan and South Korea overestimate the percentage of citizens who do not identify with any religion. In South Korea citizens thought that 42 percent of citizens did not identify with any religion when the actual number is 46, and in Japan the figures were 53 where the actual percentage is 57. In China the estimate was 57 somewhat above the actual 52 percent.
The unhappily titled "Index of Ignorance" places Mexico at the top of 28 ranked countries, as the worst. South Korea is the highest ranked at 28, followed by the Irish at 27. China is at 25 and the US next at 24. Canada is in the top half but further down at 17. The report is an interesting read and easy to follow but really says very little about ignorance levels in different countries.


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