Way to Go, Americans: We’re Almost as Ignorant as Italians

Unemployment Numbers
Photograph: Getty Images

It’s quiz time, people. Let’s start with an easy one: What percentage of working-age Americans are unemployed and looking for work?

If you guessed about 6 percent, give yourself a pat on the back. You have a pretty good understanding of the unemployment rate, one of the basic measures of economic well-being. If, on the other hand, you guessed 32 percent -- which would rank America among the most desperate nations on Earth -- then you guessed just like the average American!

That’s one of the findings of a survey released this week by U.K. pollster Ipsos Mori, which interviewed 11,527 people. In the 14-country Index of Ignorance (Ipsos Mori's name, but we approve), Americans are second only to Italians in how little we understand some of the stats that track the most basic contours of our society.

Ready for more? Try these:

What percentage of the U.S. population identifies as Muslim?
Americans guessed: 15%
Reality: 1%

What percentage of the population do you think are immigrants to America?
Americans guessed: 32%
Reality: 13%

Do you think this statement is true or false: The murder rate is rising in America
70 percent of Americans guessed: True
Reality: False

Here’s a question that every country got wrong by a wide margin:

What percentage of American girls aged between 15 and 19 years give birth each year?
Americans guessed: 23.9%
Reality: 3.1%

This is a tricky one. I suspect most people ignore the “each year” part and instead guess what percentage of women get pregnant at any point during their teenage years. But that’s part of the point: the phrasing above is exactly what’s meant by “teen pregnancy rate,” which is often bandied about but rarely explained. If the annual pregnancy rate really were 23.9 percent, the average American woman would have more than one child by the age of 20, and the U.S. population would probably be closer to that of China.

Here’s the ranking of countries on the Index of Ignorance, with the most fabulously ignorant at top:

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

Click here to take the full quiz and see how your ignorance of basic numbers in the news stacks up with the ignorance of other nations.

More from Tom Randall:

Follow @tsrandall on Twitter for more from the Index of Ignorance

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