The Ignorance of Nations, Ranked

How much do people know about their own country's demographics? Very little, it turns out.

Around the world, people have a pretty good sense of the life expectancy of their country’s inhabitants. When it comes to most other social statistics, they have no idea.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a study of public perception in 14 countries by Ipsos MORI, a U.K.-based market research firm. Ipsos polled over 11,000 residents in total about a range of social factors—from immigration to teen pregnancy to religious demographics. Here is the overall “Index of Ignorance,” from least to most informed:

1. Italy
2. U.S.
3. South Korea
4. Poland
5. Hungary
6. France
7. Canada
8. Belgium
9. Australia
10. Great Britain
11. Spain
12. Japan
13. Germany
14. Sweden

And here’s how each country stacked up on the individual issues. In the charts below, the “Guess” column represents the average of answers given by those polled. The “Difference” column represents the number of percentage points by which people missed the mark, on average. The “Actual Value” column is the actual statistic for each country.

The U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy, which might be why the country overestimates it the most.

What Percentage of Girls Age 15-19 Give Birth Each Year?


People were prone to overestimating the number of Muslims in their country, and underestimating the number of Christians.

What Percentage of People Are Muslim?

What Percentage of People Are Christian?

Every country overestimated its percentage of immigrants.

What Percentage of People Are Immigrants?

Every country underestimated the percentage of people who vote in a major election.

What Percentage of People Voted in the Last Major Election?


Everyone substantially overestimates unemployment in their country.

What Percentage of People Are Unemployed and Looking For Work?

But people have a pretty good sense of how long their children are expected to live.

What Is the Life Expectancy of a Child Born in 2014?