Mark Dolliver: Ranking People’s Day-to-Day Fears

Franklin Roosevelt to the contrary, most people have plenty to fear besides fear itself. But what do they fear most of all? Conducted in the U.S. and 19 other countries (mostly European), a survey by GfK Custom Research for The Wall Street Journal Europe asked adults to identify their “greatest day-to-day-fear.”

The No. 1 fear of the international respondent pool, picked from a menu of dire choices, was “death/illness/injury in the family,” cited by 33 percent. Ten percent picked “financial crisis caused by job loss or other reason,” 7 percent “general fears about the future” and 6 percent “problems with children or parents.” Five percent cited “problems at work (with the boss or colleagues, etc.),” while an equal number said their main daily fear is being a “victim of a crime.” Four percent chose “divorce/separation,” which suggests this ranks among the chief hopes of their mates. Two percent chose “phobias (spiders, vertigo, etc.)” as their biggest source of daily fear. A serene (or oblivious) 23 percent professed not to be much worried about anything.

The U.S. had its own distinct pattern of response. A plurality of Americans (37 percent) said they’re not very fearful about anything. Death/illness/injury was a distant runner-up, picked by 16 percent. Reflecting the downturn in crime as a top-of-mind concern, 3 percent said their main fear is that they’ll be crime victims. The U.S. tied with Switzerland and the Czech Republic for the lowest percentage of respondents picking general anxiety about the future as their chief source of daily fear (4 percent). There was no category of fear in which Americans were significantly above the poll’s global average. It’s common practice for advertisers to try motivating consumers via scare campaigns, and this certainly works in some cases. But the survey results suggest such an approach isn’t generally in sync with Americans’ temperament.