What Scotland gets wrong - the perils of perception

Ipsos MORI Scotland’s new Perils of Perception survey highlights how large the gap is between people’s perceptions of some key issues and features of Scotland’s population and the reality.

What Scotland gets wrong - the perils of perception

The author(s)

  • Emily Gray Ipsos MORI Scotland
  • Carolyn Black Ipsos MORI Scotland
Get in touch

We are fatter than we think – but not as depressed

Immigration and teen pregnancy much lower than we think

Before you look at the findings below, take our quiz and test your knowledge of Scotland!




We get some things very wrong in Scotland:

  1. Teenage pregnancy - we think eight times as many women and girls aged 19 or under get pregnant each year as actually do. The Scottish public’s average estimate is 24% (almost a quarter) when the actual figure is only 3.2%.
  2. Immigration – we think that immigrants make up a much greater proportion of the population than they actually do. The Scottish public’s average estimate is that 25% of people living in Scotland were born outside the UK, but the actual figure is 7%. We are not unique in this – Ipsos’ global polling shows that people in all countries overestimate the proportion of immigrants in their country. However, in Scotland we are further out in our estimate than the British public overall is – while the average estimate in both Scotland and Great Britain is 25%, the actual figure is 13% in GB compared with just 7% in Scotland.
  3. Obesity – we significantly underestimate how many of us are overweight or obese. We think it’s 46 people out of every 100 (less than half), when the actual figure is 65 people out of every 100 (two thirds). The Scottish public is not unique in this – people in almost all countries overestimate the proportion of overweight or obese people in their country. But Scotland is among the places where people get this most wrong – as is Great Britain.
  4. Mental health – we think that twice as many adults in Scotland have one or more symptoms of depression than actually do. On average we estimate that 41 in every 100 people aged 16 or over in Scotland have one or more symptoms of depression, but the actual figure is 19. Younger people overestimate this figure more than older people do, which may indicate that recent high-profile mental health campaigns have cut through, and that younger age groups in particular believe that symptoms of depression are widespread.
  5. Taxation – we overestimate the percentage of us who are higher earners. We think that 29% (almost three in ten) of us are liable to pay the higher or additional rates of income tax, when the actual figure is just 8% (one in twelve). And we radically underestimate how much this group contributes to income tax – on average, we think this group contributes just half the amount they actually do (29%, compared with the actual figure of 60%).

On alcohol, though, we get the proportion of teetotallers in Scotland more or less right! We think that one in five people in Scotland (20%) don’t drink alcohol, when the actual figure is 16%. This suggests that the public are realistic about the extent of drinking in Scotland, which may relate to how long-standing and widely discussed Scotland’s relationship with alcohol has been. 

Emily Gray, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said:
“We know from previous studies that our misperceptions are partly because we overestimate what we worry about: the more we see coverage of an issue, the more prevalent we think it is. We are often most incorrect on issues that are widely discussed in the media or highlighted as challenges facing our society, such as teenage pregnancy, immigration and mental health. There are multiple reasons for these errors – from our struggle with maths and proportions, to media coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases.

"But we also underestimate key challenges such as obesity. We are perhaps not as worried as we should be, given the extent to which the Scottish population is overweight.

"And there are lessons for public policy in what we get wrong. On income tax, for example, we think that more people are higher earners than is actually the case, but underestimate how much tax this group contributes. This has implications for current policy discussions, following the Finance Secretary’s announcement in the 2018-19 Draft Budget of modest changes to the tax system that mean higher earners in Scotland will pay more income tax than those elsewhere in the UK for the first time. The results point to a need for people to be sufficiently informed about taxation to hold government to account: since we underestimate how much higher earners contribute to Scotland’s tax take, we may also misjudge what difference this and any future policy changes will make.”

Technical note

  • These are the findings of the Ipsos MORI Scotland Perils of Perception Survey. 1,008 interviews were conducted by telephone between 27 November and 5 December 2017.
  • Similar Perils of Perception Surveys have also been conducted in 38 countries and districts around the world, using the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the USA. The following countries used either online or face-to-face methodologies: Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway and Serbia.
  • The “actual” data for each question is taken from a variety of sources. A full list of sources/links to the actual data can be found below.
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.
  • Data are weighted by age, sex, working status, region, educational qualifications, employment sector and tenure to match the profile of the population.

The author(s)

  • Emily Gray Ipsos MORI Scotland
  • Carolyn Black Ipsos MORI Scotland

More insights about Culture