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Busting the myth of Friday the 13th

Number 13 house number

More than one in four streets in the UK don’t have a house with a number 13, where there is one it sells for less than number 12 or number 14 even if identical and high-rise hotels don’t even have a 13th floor. But Brunel economist Dr Jan Fidrmuc says science can prove definitively that you can put away the four leaf clover.

Along with Dr JD Tena of Liverpool University, Dr Fidrmuc has published an academic paper which explodes the enduring myth that Friday the 13th is a particularly unlucky day and discussed his findings on BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast and the BBC’s World Service.

He said: “Commonly the bad luck is attributed to Jesus being crucified on a Friday and there being 13 at the Last Supper, one of whom went on to betray him.

“But until now no one has come up with a scientifically robust way of establishing whether or not there is any objective evidence either way.

“Selecting the right kind of data is crucial. It’s no good using surveys. People are much more likely to remember something bad happening on an “unlucky” day.

Similarly, considering outcomes of actions, such as buying a house or to getting married, is fraught with difficulty, as superstitious people are unlikely to make such important decisions on an unlucky day. For example, when comparing those who got married on a Friday the 13thwith the rest, the two groups are likely to be very different.

“And we know superstition about 13 measurably affects behaviour. In the UK the number of marriages fell sharply in 2013 compared with 2012 with the Office of National Statistics suggesting fears of bad luck might be to blame.

“In the US people spend less by an incredible $1 billion on Friday 13th compared with other “normal” Fridays. And don’t forget in any given year there can be between one and three such Fridays.

“On Friday June 13th 2014 flights on budget airlines were considerably cheaper in Austria, France, Sweden and the UK than on any other days that month.”

What was needed was to identify a large number of people potentially subject to bad luck. While it is relatively easy to ensure that one’s child is not born in an unlucky year, the day of birth, especially if it’s a natural birth, is as good as random.

So the two academics searched the records of four million individuals held by the UK Labour Force Survey.

The survey contains (among many other details) information about jobs, wages, marital status and crucially for this research, date of birth.

Then the researchers had to decide on possible ways being born on an inauspicious days might affect life-time outcomes. They decided to look at what the Friday the 13th effect might be. Would Friday-the-13th-ers be more or less likely to be employed, have higher or lower wages or be more or less likely to be single?

These outcomes may appear rather mundane, but they are hugely important for one’s quality of life. Even relatively small differences attributable to being born on an unlucky day could have large impacts over one’s life time.

 In the end they had a lot of data about the success in life of people born on the 13th, Friday the 13th as well as on the 12th and 14th.

The results? Being born on the 13th or even Friday the 13th did not show any dramatically worse outcomes that being born on the 12th or 14th, neither of which is regarded as either being particularly lucky or unlucky.

The authors conclude their paper: “Overall…results suggest that those born on the 13th or on a Friday the 13th need not lose much sleep over the inauspicious circumstances of their birth.”

Dr Fidrmuc added “Triskaidekaphobia, the scientific name for the phobia of the number 13, has real world financial consequences which as economists concern us.

“Everywhere we looked there were examples. So by exploding the myth we hope to have added our own little fiscal stimulus to between one and three Fridays a year.”