Saturday, June 27, 2015

Five most common fears for younger Americans ages 16 to 34 are other drivers, public speaking, death, snakes, and spiders

On June 23rd the Ford Motor Company issued a press release mis-titled Younger Americans Fear Other Drivers More Than Death, Public Speaking, and Spiders, New Study Finds. It was about an online survey done between April 29th and May 4th by Penn Schoen Berland on a sample of 1000 people in the U.S. from Generation Y (ages 23 to 34) and Generation Z (ages 16 to 22).  

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it for a larger, clearer view). The five most common fears were other motorists driving dangerously (88%), public speaking (75%), death (74%), snakes (69%) and spiders (69%). For this sample size the margin of error is plus or minus 3.1%, so the difference between 75% and 74% is not significant.

The survey also covered driving situations. Those results are shown in a second bar chart .The five most common ones were snowy or icy roads (79%), maneuvering into a tight parking spot (75%), backing out onto a busy street (74%), monitoring blind spots (70%), and not knowing where I’m going (69%).

Ford’s press release displayed fuzzy thinking. Their title suggested the survey was about what people feared more, while the data actually described what more people feared.

Two opening paragraphs said:

“Public speaking just lost the top spot as the most feared task for younger Americans. Distracted, dangerous drivers are now the first concern for Millennial and Generation Z consumers, new research finds.

For decades, public speaking was America’s most anxiety-inducing activity. Now, dangerous drivers are more frightening than speaking in public, death, spiders and snakes – according to independent research company Penn Schoen Berland.”

Public speaking didn’t just lose the top spot. Back on March 19, 2001 Gallup released the results of a poll in an article titled Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears. That article  had results from an earlier 1998 poll that also had snakes first. I discussed that article and results from other polls in an October 2012 blog post for Halloween titled Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.

How do the Ford results compare with other recent surveys of young people? Back in 2014 I blogged about how a YouGov survey of U.S. adults found they most commonly were very afraid of snakes, heights, public speaking, spiders, and being closed in a small space. That survey also listed results for A Little Afraid, which can be added to those for Very Afraid to produce totals that ranked in the same order as those for Very Afraid. The YouGov survey listed results for different age groups, including one from 18 to 29. Those results are shown above in a bar chart. The top five fears were spiders (65%), snakes (61%), public speaking (58%), heights (50%), and being closed in a small space (47%).

Lots of journalists thoughtlessly parroted the title from the Ford press release. MotorWeek said Young Drivers Fear Other Drivers More Than Death, and said Young drivers fear other road users more than death and spiders. They and others who communicate about the auto industry are hereby awarded honorary membership in Journalists Asleep at the Wheel (JAW).

Back in February 2014 I blogged about Busting a myth- that 75% of people in the world fear public speaking. The 75% for public speaking in this new Ford survey likely will get spread around as if it applied to the whole world, but it instead apples to just about half of the U.S., as shown above.

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