Americans rate their worst fears in new national survey

Fatal diseases, yes. Life-changing violence, yes. But plane crashes over gun violence?


 What do Americans really fear? Are their fears exaggerated compared to their real lives? Do fears vary with gender?

It turns out, according to a fascinating national survey by, The Odds of Being Afraid: What Do 1,000 Americans Fear Most, that people—with slight gender variations—fear sudden changes with potentially dire consequences the most. This starts with cancer and other deadly diseases, then turns to violent incidents from car crashes to other mayhem, and then societal breakdowns, such as losing access to clean water.

“Odds aside, the No. 1 fear among Americans were developing cancer, which averaged a score of 4.8,” reported, which asked respondents to rate dozens of fears on a one-to-seven scale (with seven being most dire). “The subsequent top two fears included getting in a car accident (4.6) and developing heart disease (4.3).”

These most-cited fears were followed by, in descending order: having a stroke, being a victim of identity theft, experiencing nuclear war, being murdered, being shot, being in a plane crash, drowning, colliding with a deer while driving, being a victim of terrorism, getting food poisoning, being bitten by a venomous snake, not having access to clean water, becoming deathly ill from the flu, being bitten by a dog, losing one’s job to an automated system, being bitten by a shark, experiencing an allergic reaction to a new food, being killed by law enforcement, dying in an elevator, being struck by lightning, experiencing complications during childbirth, being in a skydiving accident, being seriously injured by fireworks, being crushed by furniture, and an increase in U.S. border patrol.

 That’s quite a list. Needless to say, readers will surely cite other worries. But among that catalog of possible nightmares, there’s a counterpoint: the reality of what actually occurs and its prevalence, which explored.

“As we’re interested in odds/probabilities, we were curious of people’s perceptions of fearful events as compared to the realistic chance of their happening,” Karina Tissnes, project manager, said.

As you might expect, some fears are properly placed, while others are unduly paranoid.

“The top four fears regardless of gender were developing cancer, getting in a car accident, developing heart disease, and having a stroke. How do these fears stack up with reality?” they said. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for men and women. In America, 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to it. Cancer is a substantiated fear, with almost half of men and a little over a third of women having some form of it during their lifetime.”

So a general fear of deadly illness is well founded, even if the particular fates are a bit jumbled. But then fears and reality start to diverge.

“Both men and women listed getting into a car accident as their second greatest fear (tied with heart disease for men),” reported. “In reality, you are more likely to die from a stroke (which was listed as No. 4 for both genders). The odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 114, whereas stroke causes 1 in 20 deaths in the U.S.”