The Power of Belief

Let’s look at some numbers…

The approximate population of the United States at the time of this writing is about 320 million.

A little data-sniffing suggests that there are approximately 25 million children ages 0-5 and about 25 million children ages 6-11 in the US.

Let’s split that across years, giving us:

Age 0: 4.167 million
Age 1: 4.167 million
Age 2: 4.167 million
Age 3: 4.167 million
Age 4: 4.167 million
Age 5: 4.167 million
Age 6: 4.167 million
Age 7: 4.167 million
Age 8: 4.167 million
Age 9: 4.167 million
Age 10: 4.167 million
Age 11: 4.167 million

Now, let’s talk Santa Claus and who believes in Santa Claus.

Just ballpark, mind you, a little hunting shows an interesting study that reveals two things:

First, some rough data: about 85% of 4-year-olds, 65% of 6-year-olds and 25% of 8-year-olds believe in Santa Claus.

Secondly, that kids understand much more than we assume when we’re lying and when we’re not. That is to say — kids are not nearly as gullible as we wish they were.

So, let’s use that second bit to support the legitimacy of the first bit.

This gives us the following approximate data:

Age 0:
Age 1:
Age 2:
Age 3:
Age 4: 85%
Age 5:
Age 6: 65%
Age 7:
Age 8: 25%
Age 9:
Age 10:
Age 11:

Let’s split the difference for age 5 and call it 75%.

Let’s split the difference for age 7 and call it 45%.

Let’s assume that belief in Santa Claus after age 9 is, well, unusual. Let’s just zero that out.

Let’s assume that ages 0-2 aren’t really coherent for kids, so let’s zero those out as well.

I don’t know about age 3. By age 3, kids are able to vocalize well enough, but they might not be game for a full explanation of the Santa Claus thing. Your kids are exceptional, of course, and so let’s just arbitrarily assign that a value of 10%, where the remaining 90% of kids just couldn’t be arsed to answer questions.

So, here’s the new layout, with some additional numbers from the first guess:

Age 0: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.
Age 1: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.
Age 2: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.
Age 3: 10% of 4.167 million is 417,000 (0.42 million).
Age 4: 85% of 4.167 million is 3.54 million.
Age 5: 75% of 4.167 million is 3.13 million.
Age 6: 65% of 4.167 million is 2.71 million.
Age 7: 45% of 4.167 million is 1.88 million.
Age 8: 25% of 4.167 million is 1.04 million
Age 9: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.
Age 10: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.
Age 11: 0% of 4.167 million is 0.

Based on my ballpark figures and a little data-sniffing, it can be reasonably stated that about 12.72 million people believe in Santa Claus. Not only that, but that these 12.72 million people believe in Santa, have sophisticated (more sophisticated than we “believe,” ha!) capabilities to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and are willing to “go to the mat” with researchers. That’s more than the entire population of Portugal!

So belief, which is what this is all about anyway…

People can believe all sorts of things.

People let their beliefs influence their decisions.

But the notion that a belief should be sacrosanct simply because it is a belief?

I think if the rest of us know that there isn’t a fat man in red who lives at the North Pole delivering toys to good children, without having to actually go to the North Pole ourselves (it’s a tricky trip), and yet almost 13 million people sincerely deeply believe that there is a fat man in red who lives at the North Pole delivering toys to good children…

…then maybe “belief” is actually kind of one of the weaker reasons for making big decisions.

Data, however, is delicious.