NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Geography of Fear

Daniel Treisman

NBER Working Paper No. 16838
Issued in February 2011
NBER Program(s):   POL

Whether the danger invoked is nuclear war or genetically modified foods, far more people in some countries than in others say they are afraid. Using data from six surveys, I show that the levels of reported fear of different dangers correlate strongly across both individuals and countries. I construct indexes of fearfulness for 15-25 countries and map the prevalence of fear in Western Europe. About two thirds of the crossnational variation within Europe can be explained by differences in pessimism—the degree to which respondents exaggerate the likelihood of disasters. Among the countries for which I have data, the most robust correlates of fearfulness relate to countries‘ religious traditions. Fear tends to be higher in countries where more people believe in Hell and where fewer believe in Heaven.

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This paper was revised on December 5, 2011

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16838

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