Accentuating the Negative: The Mismatch Between Public Perception of Child Well-being and Official Statistics
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This paper reports findings from a series of polls designed to ascertain how well the American public understands the circumstances, characteristics, and living conditions of American children. We compare poll responses to official statistics to assess the accuracy of the public’s perceptions. With few exceptions, the results suggest a large gap between the public’s perception of children and official statistics and highlight a second finding—primarily, where misperceptions exist the public tends to perceive children’s circumstances to be worse than they actually are. Bivariate and multivariate analyses indicate that there are small but significant group differences by education, gender, age and community type in the public’s understanding of child well-being. Our results also suggest that perceptions of children may be shaped in part by an individual’s environment and personal experiences. Possible contributors to this public gap in knowledge, implications for the dissemination of statistical information on children, and public policy are discussed.
KeywordsPublic perception Child well-being Statistical literacy Public policy
We gratefully acknowledge research support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank Diane Colasanto for her advice in the development of questions. We also thank Julie Dombrowski for her computational assistance, as well as Andrew Rivers, Kristen Asmussen, Thomson Ling, and Kevin Cleveland for providing valuable technical support.
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