Monday, July 16, 2012

America's ranking

In honor of July 4th, this post is about a survey of where America ranks of various qualities.  (July 4th was almost two weeks ago, but I blog at a leisurely pace).  The survey was sponsored by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University and US News.  The questions were introduced with "the UN Human Development report has ranked 32 industrial countries, including the United States, on a number of dimensions. Where do you think the United States ranks – from 1 being first to 32 being last – on each of the following?"  The items were:
                                                                                              Median perceived              Actual
life expectancy at birth                                                                 5th                               24th
research and development 
   expenditures as a percentage of GDP                                      10th                               ?
economic equality as 
   measured by the ratio of the richest
   10% to poorest 10% in income or consumption                      15th                              30th
Gender equality as measured by the ratio of
   female to male earned income                                                 15th                               ?
Mathematics literacy scores                                                       15th                              25th

I was unable to find the original UN report ranking 32 nations, and the Center for Public Leadership didn't report the actual rankings for R&D and gender equality, but I think the median public rankings are pretty close to the true ranking on those items (see the Human Development Report for rankings of all countries). 

That raises the question of who perceives the United States as ranking higher or lower.  I looked at the effects of self-rated ideology and education.  Conservatives see the United States as ranking better on every item.  I thought that math literacy might be an exception, since conservative leaders often are critical of American education, but the association was about equally strong for all.

The effects of education were more varied:  more educated people thought we ranked worse on math scores and better on life expectancy, gender equality, and R&D expenditures.  There was no association with perceived rank on inequality. 

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