Q16 – Refugees share of world population

This question was asked to the public in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and the UK in the Sustainable Development Misconception Study 2020

In December 2020 Gapminder launches a brand new service for upgrading your worldview, where you will be able to take this (and many other) tests and become certified gapm.io/upgrader


What share of the world population are refugees?

a) Around 0.4%

b) Around 4.4%

c) Around 14.4%

Correct answer

Around 0.4% of the world’s population are refugees.

Millions of imaginary refugees in people’s heads

Refugees are in the news all the time, so it isn’t surprising that most people answer this question wrongly. When you hear that there are 26 million refugees it seems like a big number, but it’s NOT if you divide it by the total world population of 7.7 billion. Then it’s less than half of one percent! The majority of people think that more than 4% of the world’s population are refugees, which would mean that 1 in 25 is a refugee. In reality, it’s more like 1 in 300.

We tested this question on people with very different opinions about migration, and everyone was equally wrong about this, independent of their opinions. 

No matter how and where they think refugees should be supported, in reality the task to help them is smaller than they believe.

Data explanation

The number 0.34% for 2019 was calculated by dividing the number of international refugees 26 million (UNHCR[1]) with the total world population of 7.7 billion people (UN[2]). As we know that both these numbers are potentially a bit wrong, we rounded upwards in the answer options, and used  0.4% as the correct answer, to make sure we are not underestimating the share of refugees, which is probably lower than 0.4%.

Source 1 – UNHCR Global Trends 2019 – page 2

Source 2 – UN Population Prospects 2019