toplines: Tempting Fate

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Even Americans who aren't bewitched or bothered by most superstitions are bewildered enough to buy into some of them.

As children, we're told that if you step on a crack you'll break your mother's back, but if you find a penny and pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck. Is America a nation of believers?

An exclusive survey conducted for American Demographics by research firm Market Facts, indicates only 44 percent of us are willing to admit that we're superstitious. The remaining 56 percent are "optimistically superstitious," meaning we're more willing to believe the good over the bad. For example, 12 percent of those who say they don't buy into the folklore, do believe that knocking on wood brings good luck. What's more, 9 percent of those who don't believe in superstitions do, however, accept that finding a penny brings good luck. Nine percent of non-believers also say the same of a four-leaf clover, while 11 percent give credence to kissing under the mistletoe.

Of the 44 percent of Americans who admit to being superstitious, 65 percent say they are "only a little," 27 percent are "somewhat," and 8 percent are "very" superstitious. Interestingly, while women comprise 60 percent of all superstitious persons, 64 percent of the "very" superstitious are male. In another twist, more younger people buy into the folklore than their older counterparts: 64 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 are at least a little superstitious compared with 30 percent of those 65 and older.

What's more, if you believe education enlightenment makes someone less superstitious, think again. Whereas 42 percent of Americans with a high school education or less report being at least a little superstitious, 47 percent of their college-educated counterparts claim the same. But what student trying to pass physics wouldn't?

In our survey, respondents were asked if they believed in 10 commonly-held superstitions, five thought to bring good luck and five to bring bad. Optimism seems to rule: Four of the five most widely held superstitions are the ones that bring on the good (see chart).

But not everyone believes as strongly in each superstition - good or bad. For example, while only 13 percent of the population at large believes that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, 30 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds think so. Interestingly, the nine installments of the horror movie series Friday the 13th were released during this set's formative years (1980-1993). Coincidence? Perhaps.

And what survey about superstitions would be complete without asking what we do to improve our luck? Listen up, lottery and gaming officials: one-quarter of all Americans have a lucky number. And the younger crowd is even more apt to count their lucky stars - 40 percent of them have a favorite digit. This group is also the most likely to carry something like a coin, a rabbit's foot, or a necklace for good luck. Twenty-seven percent of them carry around a lucky charm compared with 13 percent of the total population. But what about a lucky article of clothing? Eight percent of Americans wear their luck on their sleeve (or pants, or socks, etc.). Slightly more men than women (8 percent versus 7 percent) have a lucky shirt or the like. But maybe that's just an easy excuse for not doing laundry.

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