Britons Clueless About Immigration, Religion And Every Other Fact About UK Society

29/10/2014 14:19 | Updated 29 October 2014

Everyone is wrong about almost everything, a new poll has found.

The international study by Ipsos MORI discovered that basic facts about the makeup of British society elude the general population, who tend to hugely overestimate when asked how common they think certain things are.

British people are largely clueless about immigration, teen pregnancy, the proportion of the population that is Muslim and how many of us work - and give wildly inaccurate and overblown figures for each, Ipsos MORI found in the poll of how wrong different countries were about different issues.

The poll showed British people estimate 21% of their countrymen are Muslims, while the actual figure is 5%.

ipsos mori muslim

Britain's ignorance of how many people are Muslim ranked against other countries, on Ipsos MORI's 'index of ignorance'

We also think 24% of people living here are immigrants. It's actually 13%.

Only 3% of girls aged 15 to 19 give birth a year. When asked for their best estimate on this, British people guessed 16%.

British people also thought:

  • The proportion of UK citizens professing to be Christians was 39%, 20% lower than the actual figure
  • That 37% of us are over-65, which would come as news to the 17% who actually are
  • Nearly a quarter, 24%, of working-age people are unemployed, which, if true, would be one of the highest in the world. It's actually 7%
  • Only 49% of people voted in the last general election. That polling station may have looked quiet, but actually 66% turned out in 2010
  • Children born in 2014 have a life expectancy of 83. It's actually 80. Better than our other guesses though, well done Britain!
  • We're also a bit better clued up about crime - 49% of Brits polled correctly said the murder rate was falling, while 25% said it was rising

Bobby Duffy, the managing director at Ipsos MORI's Social Research Institute, said: “These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making. For example, public priorities may well be different if we had a clearer view of the scale of immigration and the real incidence of teenage mothers.

"People also under-estimate 'positive' behaviours like voting, which may be important if people think it is more 'normal' not to vote than it actually is."

A total of 41% of British people polled thought the level of immigration was at least twice what it actually is.

They were asked why they gave that answer, after being informed of the actual figure, and said they believed the official figure was wrong because the number of immigrants was under-counted, while nearly half said their view was based on "what I see in my local area".

ipsos mori immigration

Why people in Britain think immigration is higher than statistics say

ipsos mori immigration

...And where our ignorance of immigration ranks

ipsos mori teen pregnancy

Americans overestimated teen pregnancy the most, thinking 24% of 15 to 19 year old girls give birth a year. In fact, 3% was the highest figure in any of the 14 countries

But - all is not lost. The data was produced as part of the first international study to look at misperceptions of a range of issues and our woeful ignorance puts us among the "better informed" countries.

Mr Duffy added: “This is the first international study to look at these misperceptions across a range of issues and countries – and it shows the British are far from alone in being wrong. In fact we’re among the better informed countries – but there are still huge gaps between perceptions and reality on a number of key issues in Britain.”

Of the 14 countries surveyed, we're the 10th least ignorant - only the Spanish, Japanese, Germans and Swedes know their own country better than we do.

ipsos mori ignorance poll

Ipsos Mori's 'Index Of Ignorance'

The most ignorant were Italians, followed by Americans, South Koreans, the Polish, Hungarians, the French, Canadians, Belgians and Australians.

No one nation was consistently the most ignorant on every subject but, in all 14 countries, people overestimated the number of immigrants and Muslims.

The biggest overestimate of the Muslim population was in France, where only 8% of people follow the faith but the poll showed people believe 31% do.

The least wrong were the Japanese, where people guessed 4% were Muslim, which, given the actual percentage is 0.1%, was roughly 4% too high.

Ipsos MORI's findings in full

  • 1 Miliband: Brits need "fair crack of the whip", 23 June 2012
    PA/PA Wire
    Miliband warned that Britons needed "a fair crack of the whip" as "local talent" was being "locked out" by foreign-born workers. He added: “Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make them bigots. Not in any way. “They’re anxious about the future. And since this conversation is going on in the houses, streets and neighbourhoods of Britain, it must be a conversation that the Labour Party joins, too.”
  • 2 Miliband says he'll 'deal with' immigration, 14 December 2012
    Speaking in Tooting, Miliband said that anxiety about immigration was felt "all across the world" and pledged to "deal with" the issue. "The answer is not to sweep it under the carpet, or fail to talk about it, or say that people are prejudiced," he added
  • 3 Miliband targets low-skill migrants, 5th March 2013
    Miliband called for minimum wage rules to be more strictly enforced as a method of cracking down on low-skilled immigration, in the party's first party political broadcast devoted to immigration.
  • 4 Miliband vows to curb non-EU migration, 22 September 2013
    Speaking to Andrew Marr, Miliband promised an immigration bill in the first year of a possible Labour government. He said the bill would "secure control of our borders, crack down on exploitation of workers coming here undercutting workers already here, and say to big companies that bring in people from outside the EU that they can do that, within a cap, but they have got to train the next generation."
  • 5 Miliband targets firms using cheap foreign labour, 5 January 2014
    Tim Goode/EMPICS Entertainment
    Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Miliband vowed to tackle firms using cheap foreign labour, warning that "low-skill immigration risks making the problems of the cost of living crisis worse for those at the sharp end".
  • 6 Miliband pledges to 'do something about it', 27th May 2014
    Tim Goode/EMPICS Entertainment
    The Labour leader told an audience in Thurrock, Essex, that many voters had spoken to him about "immigration and the changes [they] have seen" in the area. He acknowledged that voters want politicians to "do something about it".
  • 7 Miliband promises to be 'hard-headed', 12th October 2014
    Writing in the Observer after Labour narrowly stopped Ukip winning the Heywood and Middleton by-election, Miliband said Labour "cannot - and will not - ignore" immigration and promised to address concerns in a "hard-headed fashion".
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