Our perceptions are not the reality in Australia

How many immigrants do you think there are in Australia per 100 people? 60? 30? 20? The real answer might be a little shocking to you – 28 per cent of our population are immigrants.

In a new survey by Ipsos, our perceptions of the country we live in are not anywhere near the reality. In the last few months, there has been backlash against the Islamic population of Australia, but how many Muslims are truly living in this country? If you guessed 18 per cent, you would have had the same average guess as the 1,000 respondents of the survey. However, the real figure is 2 per cent. That’s right – only 2 per cent of our population are of an Islamic faith, and 61 per cent are Christian (average guess was 45 per cent). But why do we think this? Why have we grossly overestimated how many people of a certain faith we have in Australia and not of another? Does media play a role in this?

This isn’t the only disparity between our guesses and the reality – Australians believe there are many more over 65s than there really are! 14 per cent of the Australian population are over 65, but the survey results showed that we think our population is made up of 37 per cent seniors. Does it really feel like that? How many seniors would you have thought there were?

The skewed perspective flowed on to employment and when asked “Out of every 100 people of working age, about how many do you think are unemployed and looking for work?”, we answered 23 per cent, despite it being 6 per cent. The only time in the survey where we underestimated the results (other than about Christianity) was how many election people voted in the last election. Was it 84 per cent? Nope – it was 93 per cent. In comparison, of eligible voters in the US, 67 per cent voted but their respondents thought it was more like 57 per cent. Have we lost our faith in our fellow Australians so much so that we think they don’t have jobs and don’t vote?

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From these findings, not only can we draw conclusions about our own thinking, but present them to the world. Is this how we want to display ourselves, as ignorant and out of touch with statistics? This Ipsos survey was given to citizens of 14 countries (including Oz): Italy, France, Britain, Hungary, South Korea, Japan, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Canada, USA, Poland and Belgium. Of these countries, we were the 9th most ignorant behind Canada, and the US – Italy came out on top.


Can we learn from this survey? Are we too negative about our population? Or is it just in our nature to overestimate? Tell us your thoughts below.