Millions of Americans buy lottery tickets each year, even though most people know their chances of winning are slim at best. Why do they bother, when taking home the grand prize is less likely than dying in a plane crash or being struck by lightning? It’s probably because humans are not particularly skilled at understanding probability—according to a 2016 University of Toronto study—especially when it comes to guessing the odds of things that could happen in their lives. This is partially caused by “optimism bias,” the belief that good things are more likely to happen to than bad things.
It makes sense: Everyone wants to avoid the negative and instead hit the $20 million jackpot. Stacker has gone for a deep dive through government statistics, scientific facts, and more to find the odds of those unique—or not so unique—circumstances, to see just how likely they actually are.
Click through to the following statistics to find out why you shouldn’t count on a due date for your next baby—and why you should be more worried about dying on your birthday than living to 100 years old.
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The odds of being struck by lightning are much higher than you may think. The phenomenon is actually one of the highest causes of weather-related human death. In any given year, the probability of getting struck is 1 in 700,000, according to National Geographic. But over the course of an entire life, odds improve considerably to 1 in 3,000.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics, there were only 487 medals for 2,952 athletes—meaning just enough for 16.5% of competitors. As it turned out, 93 athletes at those games accounted for 208 medals—bringing the percentage of Olympic athletes to take home medals down to just 12.6%. Meanwhile, a decreasing number of summer Olympic events has made winning medals even harder than it used to be.
Take a deep breath and board that plane with confidence: Your chances of being killed in an airplane crash are only 1 in 60 million, according to author Ben Sherwood ("The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life"). Even if your plane does crash, Sherwood points out that 95.7% of passengers in a crash survive.
You’re setting up a nursery and buying a crib, but should you build it for two? Only 33 in 1,000 U.S. births in 2017 were twins. You might have heard that twins run in families, but it is a bit more more complicated than that. Though there is a gene that makes women more likely to have fraternal twins, men who inherit it are no more likely to have twins in the family and it doesn’t increase the chance of having identical twins. Two things that actually can increase those odds are using fertility treatments and being an older mother.
It all depends on where you are and what precautions you take, but in 2011, The New York Times reported the risk of getting killed by a tornado at 1 in 5 million. That can go up to as much as 50 in 5 million if you are in a mobile home. In an average year, 69 people in the U.S. will be killed in tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. Even with such remote chances, it’s still prudent to take cover when the sirens sound.
If you’re hoping to win the lottery, you’re either very lucky or bad at math. The odds always depend on how many people play, of course. In October 2018, the odds of winning the record-breaking $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot was a measly 1 in 88 quadrillion. The odds of winning one of the smaller prizes was 1 in 302 million while the $345 million Powerball stood at 1 in 292 million. The reason for the huge prize and slim odds was a 2017 rule change.
A variety of studies have shown that less than 20% of people who receive CPR recover from their heart-stopping experience. Still, the American Heart Association says CPR can double or triple your chances of surviving a cardiac arrest. Why do people think CPR saves most people who receive it? Multiple studies have found that this could be from spending too much time watching medical TV shows, like "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy."
Meteorites may be at the heart of many science fiction and disaster films; but when it comes down to real science, Earth is a big planet covered by large, uninhabited areas. When you consider the empty versus occupied planetary surface area, the odds of getting hit by a meteorite stand at about 1 in 3,000, says NASA.
This genetic plant quirk brings the luck of the Irish to just 1 in every 10,000 clovers, says Dr. John Frett, professor of plant and soil sciences at University of Delaware. That doesn’t mean you won’t find one, though: In 2014, a woman in Australia found 21 four-leaf clovers in her front yard.
Paying taxes is stressful enough without worrying about getting audited. Of the millions of returns filed for the 2016 fiscal year, the Internal Revenue Service only audited 0.5% of them. People who file incomes of $0 or more than $10 million are more likely to get that call from the IRS.
It’s a good time to be a bowler, as more advanced equipment has helped people significantly improve at the sport. The American Bowling Congress recorded the number of perfect games rising from 905 in 1968 to 34,470 in 1998. Even with the changes, the odds of a professional player bowling a perfect game is 460 to 1 while those for a casual player stand at 11,500 to 1.
Technological advances have more than doubled human life expectancy worldwide in the last century—but don’t go planning your 100th birthday party quite yet. In 2010, there were only 53,364 people 100 or older in the United States, and 1.73 centenarians per 10,000 people in the total population. Others have calculated that a 25 year old in 2017 has between a 6% and 10% chance of living to 100, depending on gender.
Though it won’t guarantee college admission, it certainly doesn’t hurt to get a perfect score on the SAT. But few manage such a feat: Only 504 of the 1,698,521 students who took the SAT in 2015—0.03%—got every point. Things didn’t get any easier after the test was redesigned in 2016. And while test administrators no longer release precise numbers, only 7% of the 2.1 million test-takers in 2018 scored between 1400 and 1600—the highest score on the new test.
While approval ratings jump up and down, there’s at least a 90% chance a congressional representative running for re-election will be successful. Though the figure dipped to 84% in 2010, it hasn’t otherwise gone below 90% since 1974. The 2018 midterms saw 91% of incumbents re-elected, but also saw one of the highest turnover rates (per FiveThirtyEight) in recent memory, due to members who didn’t think they would be re-elected retiring before they could lose.
Listeria, salmonella, e. coli—there are a number of organisms capable of causing food poisoning. One in six Americans will experience food poisoning in a year, according to FoodSafety.gov. Of the 48 million who become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Foods eaten raw and those that are difficult to clean are especially risky.
If you applied to Harvard in 2018—the first time admission rates dropped below 5%—you had a narrow4.59% chance of getting in. Meanwhile, the class of 2000 had an acceptance rate of 10.9%. The number of admitted students hasn’t really changed, but the applicant pool has more than doubled from 18,190 to 42,749. It’s best to apply early to increase your chances: Harvard accepted 14.5% of its early action applicants, but only around 2% of those who applied for regular decision.
Be careful when you address an envelope or a parcel. Of the 88 million lost items the U.S Postal Service’s Mail Recovery Center received in 2014, it was only able to return 2.5 million. That’s less than 3%.
Many people sign up for bone marrow registries, but because you need an actual match with a patient to donate, not everyone ends up donating bone marrow. The likelihood of becoming a donor at the time of joining a registry is just 1 in 430, reports national marrow donor program Be the Match. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration says only 30% of people who need a bone marrow transplant have a relative who matches them.
“Sharknado” and “Jaws” have primed people to fear shark attacks, but in reality, it’s very unlikely to happen—Baltimore’s National Aquarium estimates the odds at 1 in 3.7 million. Surfers are most likely to encounter them because the best places for catching a wave are also the places where sharks like to gather.
When you think of common names, Robert and Mary might be near the top of your list. In the 1950s, you’d be right: Robert ranked at #3 for baby names and Mary was #1, according to the Social Security Administration. They fell way out of favor by 2017, when Mary ranked #126 and Robert ranked #65.
Half of all adults older than 75 have disabling hearing loss, reports the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It’s not just senior citizens, either: 18% of adults ages 20 to 69 have trouble hearing the frequencies of human voices.
U.S. traffic deaths in 2017 topped 40,000 for the second straight year, showing that improved vehicular technology like seat belts and automatic breaks have been offset by increased speed limits and distracted driving. In short, make sure your seat belt is on and your phone is away the next time you hit the road.
Of all the people in the U.S. who entered college in 2010 seeking a bachelor’s degree, 60% graduated at the same institution by 2016, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.Completion rate, of course, varied: Women were more likely to finish their degrees than men; and at highly selective institutions, more students were likely to finish on time.
Those of us with insurance buy it with the hope of never having to use it. But when it comes to long-term care insurance, 79% of women, and 58% of men 65 and older will need it for periods ranging from two to four years, according to research discussed by Forbes. Morningstar stats show that 2.3% of Americans actually have insurance to cover long-term care.
While a text-focused culture like the U.S. may appear to take literacy for granted, it is estimated that 32 million adults can’t read. Other studies suggest 50% of all U.S. adults can’t read a book written on an eighth grade level. For those looking for resources, groups like the American Library Association offer free adult literacy classes.
The odds that you can use both hands equally for any task are low: Readers Digest reports that only 1 in every 100 people are actually ambidextrous. Some people may learn to use their non-dominant hand out of convenience or necessity, but that’s not exactly the same thing.
Better hurricane-prediction systems have helped reduce the number of fatalities from storms—most of the nation’s deadliest hurricane seasons happened more than 50 years ago. A 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, killed around 8,000 people. The death toll from 2017’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico is disputed, but the official death toll was set to 2,975 nearly a year after the storms made landfall.
In 2017, 357,000 of fires occurred in one- and two-family homes, apartments, and mobile homes, leading to 3,400 deaths. The best way to lower your chance of losing your home or injuring yourself in a fire is to take extra care while you’re cooking: Kitchen-related incidents have been the leading cause of house fires for the last 10 years. It doesn’t hurt to make sure you regularly change the batteries in your smoke detectors, either.
Being injured or killed by unstable furniture falling over is rare, but maybe not as rare as you think. Around 30,700 injuries are reported every year, but these rarely result in deaths. Between 2000 and 2016, only 514 incidents involving unstable furniture were fatal, and most involved children from 1 month to 14 years old. Even at these small numbers, you’re more likely to be crushed to death by furniture than die in a terrorist attack.
Though plenty of kids dream of becoming the next LeBron James or Serena Williams, there’s simply not enough room on the court for the 8 million high school athletes competing across the country. Only 480,000—or 6%—will end up on a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) team in college. From there, the number who move on to pro teams or the Olympics is even smaller: Only 9.5% of NCAA men’s basketball players and 6.4% of men’s ice hockey players were drafted to major pro teams, with all other sports hovering around 1.5% or fewer.
Winning the lottery isn’t in the cards for most people, but that doesn’t mean your odds of obtaining fabulous wealth are insurmountable. Americans older than 61 have a 1 in 7 chance of having a net worth exceeding $1 million, while millennials find their odds of becoming a millionaire are significantly lower: 1 in 55. More education improves chances all around, but race plays the most significant factor, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found.
The U.S. is one of a small number of countries that still has a death penalty in place, though after decades of resistance it remains a legal punishment in only 29 states. The number of executions and death row sentences reached a 25-year low in 2018, as fewer than 2,500 inmates are left awaiting execution. That’s around 0.1% of the 2.3 million people imprisoned in the U.S.
Bees might seem like harmless, fuzzy pollinators, but alongside wasps and hornets, they are responsible for nearly 60 deaths a year and hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits. Most reactions are easily treated by EpiPens, but that brand’s manufacturer controversially hiked the price to $600—or $300 for a generic version—well out of the price range for some who need it the most.
The water crisis in Flint, Mich., became an international story in 2015 after news broke that city officials had known and done nothing about lead pipes contaminating the city’s water, poisoning thousands of children. But they’re not the only ones suffering the developmental effects of lead poisoning: In 2014, the 4.2% of children were found to have elevated levels of lead. This is potentially a conservative number, as many children aren’t tested, leaving the data incomplete.
The Supreme Court’s 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage was seen as a watershed moment in the movement for equality for LGBTQ+ Americans. In the years since, more people are identifying as LGBTQ+, up to 4.5% of the population as of a 2017 Gallup poll. The numbers are driven largely by millennials and women.
It seems like you should have a 1 in 365—or 366 on a leap year—chance of dying on any particular day of the year. An economist at the University of Chicago discovered this isn’t actually the case. You’re actually 6.7% more likely to die on your birthday, a rate that increases for young people or when birthdays fall on weekends.
Being born with extra fingers and toes is the result of a medical condition known as polydactyly, and it affects 1 in every 500 to 1,000 births in the United States. But don’t worry if it happens to you or your child, as most cases are easily fixed with surgery. People usually end up with one extra finger or toe, but the world record is held by a child born in 2010 in India with four fingers and 20 toes.
Gun deaths are the leading cause of death in the U.S., but mass shootings like those in Parkland and Las Vegas, or the more recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, account for only a small fraction of those deaths. The average American has a 1 in 11,125 chance of dying in a mass shooting over the course of their lives.
Shiny Pokemon are no different than a normal Pokemon, except that they have a different color-scheme and are incredibly rare. They appeared in the video game franchise with Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, where players had a 1 in 8,192 chance of finding one. The Pokemon game for Nintendo Switch eases those odds to 1 in 341 after players catch a certain number of a specific species, or 1 in 4,096 without the combo.
No birth control is 100% effective, but some are more successful at preventing pregnancy than others. Latex condoms fail 13% of the time, prescription birth control pills fail 7% of the time, and implants like intrauterine devices (IUDs) generally fail less than 1% of the time. The right choice depends on the person in question and should always be discussed with your doctor.
Catching a foul ball during a professional baseball game is a dream of any fan, and the odds of it happening aren’t too terrible, depending on some obvious factors like where you’re sitting and the pitcher-batter matchup. All in all, there’s around a 1 in 835 chance of snagging a ball while rooting for your team. The odds of catching two in a row are closer to 1 in 1 billion.
The best hand in poker, a royal flush consists of a 10, jack, queen, king, and ace of the same suit in your hand. There’s only a 0.00015% chance of being dealt this, and only four possibilities—one of each suit—out of 2.6 million possible poker hands in a normal five-card game.
People born on Feb. 29, the extra day added to the calendar every four years to keep calendars matching up with the rotation of the sun, are the subject of fascination and constant jokes about how they only have a birthday every four years. The chances any person being born on that day are 1 in 1,461, the number of days in four years plus one.
Getting your wisdom teeth removed has become an adolescent rite of passage, with about 10 million of them removed every year. Despite debates over the necessity of having surgery before the teeth cause problems, around 85% of people who have wisdom teeth—some people are born without them—still get them removed.
Scientists use Drake’s Equation to estimate the probability that alien life exists in the universe. There are no exact estimates, but one recent study suggests a 39% to 85% chance that humans are alone in the universe.
Due dates are an inexact science, usually calculated based on a rule devised in the 19th century. Only 5% of babies are born on their due dates, while 80% are born sometime in the two weeks before or after. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are considered premature and can suffer from physical disability or developmental delays. In 2017, 1 in every 10 U.S. babies were born prematurely.
Every year, billionaire Warren Buffett offers $1 million per year for life to any employee at his company who fills out a perfect bracket for the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament. The exact odds of correctly predicting the outcome of all the match-ups depend on who you ask: Forbes places it at 1 in 9.2 quintillion, while FiveThirtyEight pegged the 2015 odds at 1 in 1.6 billion. Either way, Buffett won’t have to pay a grand prize winner for the foreseeable future.
This would be the probability that started it all, but what are the chances of any one human existing at all? While they’re not infinitely small, the odds are not stacked in your favor. Your parents had to meet, you had to be conceived from a specific sperm and egg, you had to be born, and your ancestors had to do the same thing for generations before you or your parents were born. After all that, you had around a 1 in 5.5 trillion chance, but if you’re reading this, you beat those tough odds, so congratulations are in order.