What Worries the World?

The everyday concerns of the global population are the focus of one of Ipsos’ flagship global surveys. Each month we ask an online sample of over 18,000 citizens in more than 25 countries1 about the key issues they believe are facing their country, asking them to pick up to three from a diverse array of topics, ranging from unemployment to access to credit.

What worries the world?

In this paper we review the data for January to December 2016 – a year of great disruption and change – to try to understand how the world’s worries are changing. We make use of Ipsos’ longterm trends to see how concerns have shifted over time, what people are worried about right now, and what we might worry about in the future. The research is updated regularly throughout the year, so please do look in at our website if you are interested in the latest results.

Some headlines:

  1. Unemployment remains the biggest concern globally – as it has been since the start of our survey series in 2010. What’s worth noting, though, is that its lead on other issues has slowly but surely reduced over this time.
  2. In European countries, unemployment is clearly the chief worry. Crime and violence is the core issue for Latin American countries, whilst in North America healthcare is the leading concern (33%). Concerns about terrorism are also rising.
  3. Around the world, men and women have similar worries – both place unemployment as their main concern. But there are differences as well For example, men are more likely than women to single out financial/political corruption as something which worries them, while women are more worried about crime and healthcare.
  4. Citizens’ worries do not always reflect the reality of life in their country, at least as measured by “official indicators”. Whilst concern about unemployment is typically higher in countries with greater levels of joblessness, there appears to be no relation between worries over corruption or inequality and the level of corruption or income disparity present in the surveyed countries.
  5. In the near future, unemployment may fall from being the top worldwide concern. It is unclear what might replace it, but the concerns of large emerging economies – especially about the environment and cost of living – seem likely to rise.

Are we on the right track?

A key contextual factor is the extent to which people feel that their country is headed in the right (or wrong) direction. And it is one area where there is great country-level variance. At one extreme, over the year 89% of Chinese citizens said they felt their country was headed in the right direction. At the other, a near-identical proportion in Brazil (88%) felt that their country was off on the wrong track.

The past twelve months

What was the world worrying about in 2016? Unemployment is a constant presence, starting and ending the year on 38% and not shifting more than two percentage points away from that figure at any point.

Who worries about what?

What do different types of people worry about? The broad global picture is informative, but it is the comparisons by gender and generation that help us build a more complete picture.

  • Men/women: of a broadly similar mind
  • Generational concern: old and young united, but education more important to Millennials
  • Regional concerns: the importance of geography

What should we be worrying about?

How justified are we in worrying about different issues? Our previous investigations into the “Perils of Perception”2 show that we often overestimate things that are unlikely to happen, and underestimate things that are more likely to occur. Asking people what they are worried about in their country provides another opportunity to test this hypothesis.

  • Are unemployment levels and concern with unemployment related?
  • Does the concern with corruption correlate with what’s happening on the ground?
  • How does concern with poverty/inequality line up with actual inequality?

What will we worry about next?

What will the concerns of the future look like? If 2016 has shown us anything, we appear to be entering a more unpredictable and disruptive era, which makes forecasting the world’s worries more difficult. If the trend over the past six years is anything to go by, perhaps we may see – for the first time in this series – unemployment falling from the top of the global worry list.