What Americans Fear the Most (and It’s Not Their Spouse Dying)


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Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And yet, it seems Americans have a laundry list of fears beyond just fear itself. 

Every year, Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF) identifies the top 10 fears in America, following trends over time and identifying new fears as they arise. In the spring of 2023, 1,014 adults nationwide were polled on their greatest fears, covering 97 different topics to find the most common ones.

So what sends shivers down Americans’ spines? Snakes, clowns, the thought of death? Actually, it’s scarier stuff. Here are 10 things that keep Americans up at night.

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10. Not Having Enough Money for the Future

Very Afraid or Afraid: 48%

If financial security keeps you up at night, you’re in good company. Even with inflation hitting a two-year low, 48% of people admit they’re stressed about their financial future. Considering the economic upheaval since the pandemic’s onset, it’s a valid worry driving countless sleepless nights.

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9. Cyberterrorism

Very Afraid or Afraid: 49.3%

While most Americans would be hard-pressed to name an act of cyberterrorism that put American lives in danger or plunged the nation into economic chaos, this is a predominant fear in the country, with 49.3% of respondents saying they are afraid or very afraid of cyber-terrorism. “We know all the terrorist groups are recruiting young computer specialists,” Scott White, associate professor and director of the cybersecurity program at the George Washington University, told The Hill. “It’s no longer bombs. It’s, Can you launch a cyberattack from a safe-haven country against the United States?” 

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8. Biological Warfare

Very Afraid or Afraid: 49.5% 

This fear, initially fueled by numerous conspiracy theories alongside the outbreak of COVID-19, found more reason to grow in 2022. Claims (since debunked) by Russian authorities about the use of biological weapons in Ukraine added fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories. Despite the fact that no such weapon exists, this unsupported claim triggered anxiety among many Americans.

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7. Pollution of Drinking Water

Very Afraid or Afraid: 50%

More than fearing the dark, over half of Americans worry their drinking water might be contaminated. This concern is all too real, especially since recent studies show nearly half of U.S. tap water contains “forever chemicals” — toxic substances that persist indefinitely in the environment or our bodies.

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6. People I Love Dying

Very Afraid or Afraid: 50.4%

Dumbledore once said, “Do not pity the dead, pity the living.” And it looks like many Americans really take that to heart. The survey shows that while only 29% are actually scared of death, a whopping 50.4% of respondents fear the death of loved ones. 

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5. People I Love Becoming Seriously Ill

Very Afraid or Afraid: 50.6%

Between 2019 and 2022, concerns about serious family illnesses consistently ranked among the top five fears. However, by 2022, this particular anxiety had declined from its previous position at No. 2 to No. 5, with only 50.6% feeling that way. This change likely reflects an increased sense of security, as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and gain perspective on the pandemic’s initial impact.

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4. The U.S. Becoming Involved in Another World War

Very Afraid or Afraid: 52.3%

The war in Ukraine, with its non-stop coverage and all the uncertainty swirling around it, has a lot of us lying awake at night, worried about the world being on the brink of another global conflict. That fear has climbed up the worry ladder, moving from fifth in 2022 to fourth in 2023.

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3. Russia Using Nuclear Weapons

Very Afraid or Afraid: 52.5%

Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised concerns among many Americans about the potential for the U.S. to be drawn directly into the conflict, including the risk of being targeted with nuclear weapons. This anxiety is not just about the immediate danger but also about the broader implications for global stability and the strain on international relations.

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2. Economic/Financial Collapse

Very Afraid or Afraid:  54.7%

The fear of economic or financial collapse ranks second among the nation’s biggest fears. With interest rates up, prices climbing, and banks hitting rough patches, it’s no wonder a lot of us are sweating over the thought of a recession hitting hard. These concerns stem from the lasting impacts four years post-pandemic, with job cuts continuing, especially in tech, and the lingering memories of the 2008 financial crisis.

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1. Corrupt Government Officials

Very Afraid or Afraid: 60.1%

There you have it. More than fearing the death of loved ones or nuclear war, Americans are terrified of a corrupt government. With the election just around the corner, it’s understandable that there’s a certain sense of uncertainty. According to Christopher Bader, a sociologist at Chapman University in Orange, California, and the principal investigator of the survey, this fear primarily stems from uncertainty. 

“I’ve always found that fears stem from uncertainty, which can take many forms. Think about a person walking down the street and encountering another individual. What they’re wondering is: Who is this person, what do they want, are they dangerous?” Bader explained in a recent interview with The New York Times.“When it comes to the government, the uncertainty is significant because the average person doesn’t know how it operates, yet it has a huge effect over their lives.”

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

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