7 Scary Things That Are Statistically Unlikely

Ten thousand years ago, a reasonably intelligent human being could weigh the odds of getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, or starving to death before the autumn harvest. Today, though, most people have lost the ability to distinguish between real, looming threats to their well-being and events so improbable that they're not worth giving a second thought. Here are seven things you may have worried about (at one time or another) which, statistically speaking, are extremely unlikely.

01
of 07

Dying in a Plane Crash

Seat Belt Sign In Airplane
Mirko Macari / EyeEm / Getty Images

Probably the number one fear on most peoples' list, dying in plane crash is so statistically unlikely, and yet so deeply terrifying, that it merits a hard, cold analysis of the facts. Every day, around the world, there are well over 100,000 airplane flights (including passenger planes, private planes, military aircraft, and global shipping services like UPS and Fed Ex). In 2016, there was an average of about one fatal accident for every five million flights, for a total of 271 fatalities—putting your odds of death by plane crash at one in 11 million for any given trip. (By way of comparison, in the U.S. alone, about 40,000 people died in car crashes in 2016.)

02
of 07

Being Killed in a Terrorist Attack

IED Bomb
Andrew Regam / Getty Images

25,000 people were killed by terrorism worldwide in 2016, out of a world population of over 7.5 billion. And these odds are significantly lower in the United States. Breaking this down even further, in the United States, the chances of being killed by a Jihadist (defined here as a foreign or domestically born individual who perpetrates lethal violence in the name of Islam) amounts to about one in four million in any given year. If you exclude the thousands of individuals killed in the 9/11 attacks, that number would be even smaller. The chances of being killed by a U.S.-born white male who perpetrates lethal violence in the name of white supremacy in any given year are actually slightly higher, closer to one in three million. As for being offed by a refugee from foreign strife who has been legally admitted into this country, you can rest easy—the odds have been calculated at less than one in a billion.

03
of 07

Getting Hit by a Meteor

Meteorite in Earth's atmosphere, artwork
Science Photo Library - ROGER HARRIS / Getty Images

In 2016, a bus driver in the state of Tamil Nadu in India was killed by a falling meteor, which also shattered nearby windows and left a small crater in the ground. To put things in perspective, that was the first confirmed instance of death-by-meteor in nearly 200 years, which puts the odds of your randomly getting beaned (on a clear, sunny day, perhaps during a nice picnic) somewhere in the range of one in ten billion. The odds are different, though, when it comes to a global meteor impact of the type that rendered the dinosaurs extinct: if a meteor only a few miles wide ever collides with earth, your chances of biting the big weenie would be one in, well, one.

04
of 07

Getting Eaten by a Shark

White Shark / Dave Fleetham/Design Pics/Perspectives/Getty Images
Dave Fleetham/Design Pics/Perspectives/Getty Images

Here's the thing about getting eaten by a shark: you have to be swimming in the ocean first. If you don't happen to be swimming in the ocean, your odds of death by shark are essentially zero (never mind that “land shark” played by Chevy Chase in the first season of Saturday Night Live). You are also not at risk if you're in a yacht, dingy, canoe or kayak: sharks are not cats, and will not propel themselves out of the water and slurp you up feet-first, like Robert Shaw in Jaws. All that said, if you're a surfer, swimmer or even a timid wader, you have about a one in four million chance of getting killed by a shark; in fact, you're hundreds of times more likely to drown in shallow water, or to die in a boating accident.

05
of 07

Getting Caught on a Collapsing Bridge

Road bridge over Narragansett Bay, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA
Image Source / Getty Images

Bridges fail the same way people go bankrupt: a little at a time, and then all at once. There's no doubt that many of the 600,000 or so bridges in the U.S. are criminally neglected and in need of repair; even still, only a hundred or so drivers have died in bridge collapses over the last century, and the biggest such disaster (the collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 1989) was caused by an earthquake. Generally speaking, you're more likely to die in a bridge collapse if you're driving a 20-ton eighteen-wheeler over a little-used span on a back road, but (earthquakes aside) your odds of drowning while crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are one in several million.

06
of 07

Getting a Brain Tumor

Brain head scan
Roxana Wegner / Getty Images

 We're not going to try to talk you out of a fear of cancer, which does, in fact, afflict millions of people every year. But if you have to choose a cancer to be scared of, you could do a lot better than brain cancer, which accounts for an average of only four and a half deaths for every 100,000 people. Importantly, the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor depends on your age: this type of cancer disproportionately affects individuals under 20 years of age (though it is still extremely rare!), with the likelihood climbing again after age 75. Human biology being what it is, if you live long enough, you're almost certain to develop some form of cancer—but the odds are that heart disease, or the general effects of aging, will kill you first.

07
of 07

Getting Audited by the IRS

Tax Audit
Michael Phillips / Getty Images

Do you make more than a million dollars a year? Then quit reading this article immediately and check that your tax return is scrupulously ethical and squeaky clean. Are you an average Joe or Jane whose income tops out at $100,000, max? Then stop worrying about IRS audits and pay attention to more important things, like watching what you eat and getting annual checkups. The fact is that the IRS audits less than one percent of tax returns filed in any given year, and even then, these audits are significantly weighted to the top end of the earning spectrum. 

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Strauss, Bob. "7 Scary Things That Are Statistically Unlikely." ThoughtCo, Sep. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/likelihood-of-scary-things-4151051. Strauss, Bob. (2017, September 14). 7 Scary Things That Are Statistically Unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/likelihood-of-scary-things-4151051 Strauss, Bob. "7 Scary Things That Are Statistically Unlikely." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/likelihood-of-scary-things-4151051 (accessed November 22, 2017).