A huge Thank you to the Advisory Board Company for this great article about Friday the 13th. We hope you enjoy.
Data point both ways
Sam Bernstein, Daily Briefing
It’s Friday the 13th, a day that fills the superstitious with dread. Are they right to worry?
Research on the subject has drawn mixed conclusions, but science has given us some (modest) reasons to fret.
Studies: Either terrifying, or terrifically lacking data
According to a 2002 study, Finnish women are more likely to die in traffic accidents on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays. The authors hypothesize that some of the accidents may be caused by anxiety and phobias related to the spooky date.
Still, the authors note that the number of deaths involved in traffic accidents is so few that the phenomenon—if it exists at all—is not a major danger to public health.
And it’s worth noting that Finland’s overall rate of traffic deaths (4.8 per 100,000) is less than half the U.S. rate (10.6 per 100,000), according to the World Health Organization. So, in a very real sense, every day in the United States is Friday the 13th when it comes to traffic accidents. (How’s that for good news?)
Other research suggests that the risk may not just be a Finnish thing. A 1993 BMJ study of a community in the United Kingdom found that the risk of hospital admission as a result of a traffic accident went up by about 50 percent on Friday the 13th. “Staying at home is recommended,” the authors concluded.
But the study merely compared a pair of Fridays in one English town; as an Atul Gawande article from about 18 years ago pointed out, there’s not much to be learned from “one study of one Friday the 13th in one town.”
Ready for some good news? A 2012 study of six hospitals over several years found there was no increased risk of being admitted to the ED on Friday the 13th for any of 12 conditions.
But even the good news has a scary lining: Researchers found an increased risk of ending up in the ED for a 13th condition—penetrating traumas.
Basically, it might not be a great day to hang out with your friend who has a strange attachment to his hockey mask.
The roots of our fear
So why do we think Friday the 13th is so unlucky to begin with? Historians aren’t exactly sure, but they have several theories.
Some think it’s biblical: that the fear comes from the 13 guests who sat with Jesus on the Friday before he was crucified.
Others think it goes back to 1307, when the members of the Knights Templar were arrested on a Friday the 13th.
But no matter how it began, fear of the day certainly has spread: The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute estimates that up to 21 million Americans are affected by friggatriskaidekaphobia—fear of Friday the 13th. The institute projects that up to $800 million are lost every Friday the 13th as the result of people refusing to conduct business, purchase major items, or travel.