Friday the 13th: Unlucky Only for Women?

January 2, 2003
Updated: October 23, 2006

Spilling salt...
Breaking a mirror...
Stepping on a crack...
Walking under a ladder...
Crossing the path of black cat...

Friday the 13th...

Are these acts really signs of BAD LUCK or just superstitions? Is Friday the 13th really an unlucky day? Dr. Simo Nayha at the University of Oulu (Finland) wanted to find answers to these questions.

In his research, Dr. Nayha compared the number of traffic deaths that occurred on Friday the 13th with those that occurred on other Fridays. He studied the traffic statistics for 43 Friday the 13ths and 1,339 other Fridays between 1971 and 1997. During this time period, 123 people (82 men, 41 women) died on Friday the 13ths and 3,212 people (2,423 men, 789 women) died on other Fridays.

When variables such as the weather conditions and age of the victims were controlled, Dr. Nayha found that men were NOT more likely to die in traffic accidents on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays. However, for women, the risk of getting killed in a traffic accident was 63% HIGHER on Friday the 13th compared with other Fridays!

Friday the 13th should be equally "unlucky" for men and women. Why are women, but not men, more likely to be killed on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays? Perhaps it is not a matter of luck at all! Perhaps the belief in a superstition affects behavior. For example, superstitious people may think something bad will happen on Friday the 13th and as a result become more anxious. It is this anxiety that may increase the likelihood of something bad happening. For example, this anxiety may cause people to drive poorly on Friday the 13th. It is not known why women, but not men, are affected by Friday the 13th. One theory Dr. Nayha suggests is that that women may be more susceptible to superstitious behavior, in part because women in Finland are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with mental disorders.

It would be interesting to compare these statistics with those in countries where Friday the 13th is not considered unlucky. The occurrence of other events such as emergency room visits or criminal activity on Friday the 13th would also be fascinating to study. Further research may show how superstitions cause anxiety and how this anxious behavior affects concentration and driving skill. The consequences of "lucky" events, such as finding a four-leaf clover, also remain unstudied.

Reference and further information:

  1. Nayha, S. Traffic deaths and superstition on Friday the 13th. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159:2110-2111, 2002.
  2. Moonstruck! Does The Full Moon Influence Behavior? - Neuroscience for Kids

UPDATE (October 23, 2006): A more recent paper (Radun, I. and Summala, H., Females do not have more injury road accidents on Friday the 13th, BMC Public Health, November 16, 2004) suggests that women are NOT more likely to have traffic accidents on Friday the 13th. These researchers compared the frequency of car accidents (not deaths) in Finland from 1989 to 2002. They found NO difference in the frequency of road injury accidents (for either men or women) on Friday the 13th compared to the number of accidents on Fridays that occurred on the 6th or 20th of the month.

Radun and Summala suggest that several flaws in the earlier study (e.g., small sample size, poor control for weather conditions) resulted in the significant findings by Dr. Nayha.

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