How we drastically overestimate the proportion of immigrants in Britain and young people living with parents but underestimate obesity levels and female politicians in parliament

Lynsey Barber
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Barbara Windsor
It may be a shock, but you're not probably right about everything

Everything you think you know is wrong. Almost everything, anyway: new research by Ipsos Mori has suggested that when people are asked to gauge things such as age, wealth and religion, the majority of people get it drastically wrong.

Want proof? When it comes to perception versus reality, here are six areas where you might just be wildly off the mark.

1. Who are the one per cent?

Most people think the one per cent own most of the world's wealth, pegging it at 59 per cent. In fact, it's 23 per cent, and out of 33 countries around the world, Britons are the worst at getting this right .

2. A nation of over-eaters?

There's an obesity epidemic, we're told. But has that inflated out estimations of how many people are affected? Quite the opposite. We 44 per cent of the population are overweight. In fact it's 62 per cent.

3. Less religious times?

Many of us think we live in less religious times, but that has only served to make us overestimate how many of us are atheists and agnostics: 45 per cent, versus an actual figure of 25 per cent.

4. Immigrant overload?

It's a hot button issue, but we are largely overestimating the population of immigrants in the UK is. Generally, we guess 25 per cent when in reality it stands at 13 per cent.

5. Returning to the roost?

"Boomerang" children, who return to the nest after graduation, are an increasingly common phenomenon. But not quite as common as we think.

When asked to gauge the proportion of young people aged 25 to 34 who live at home with their parents, on average we reckon 43 per cent - a massive overestimation. It's actually 14 per cent.

7. Women in parliament?

Here's another surprise underestimate. We think the House of Commons is represented by 23 per cent female MPs, when in fact it's 29 per cent.

6. Country dwellers

Perhaps city folk think everyone beyond zone 6 is living on a farm? We think 30 per cent of Britons dwell in the countryside, when in reality it's 18 per cent.

But why?

Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute managing director Bobby Duffy explains the Perils of Perception research:

There are multiple reasons for these errors – from our struggle with simple maths and proportions, to media coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases. It is also clear from our “Index of Ignorance” that the countries who tend to do worst have relatively low internet penetrations: given this is an online survey, this is therefore likely to reflect that this more middle-class and connected population generalise from their own experience rather than consider the much greater variety of circumstances in the full populations of their country.”

How bad are we?

As a nation, our perception isn't awful, but it could be better. We rank mid-table, 13th of 33 nations, for our accuracy.

It's not the first time we've got things wrong either. We're pretty terrible at working out the cost of life too.

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