There is no shortage of British stereotypes. The Brits are often described as reserved and sometimes pompous. They can be posh or common and they are said to love their beer, fish n chips, royal family and football. Of course, they are not averse to playing a good game of bingo or slots either! But when it comes to their mojo, just how superstitious are the British? Rather than making sweeping speculations, we decided to have our researchers put together an official study, collecting data from 1000 adults across the UK. The results are nothing short of fascinating! Read on to find out more…
When analyzing the group as a whole, the Brits appeared to maintain some of their steely reserve. Just over half said they had followed a superstition to avoid bad luck and only 2.6% considered themselves to be “very” superstitious! Half of the group considered themselves to be “a little” superstitious, confirming that the British lead when it comes to understatement! So what exactly do superstitious Brits do to ward off bad luck and evil spirits? Two hot favourites are avoiding walking under ladders and using the term “touch wood”. Around 50% of British folk also balk at breaking mirrors and opening an umbrella indoors (no surprise there).
Top British Superstitions:
- Don’t walk under ladders
- Using the term “touch wood” for protection
- Careful not to break mirrors
- Never open an umbrella indoors
Brits tend to stick with these standards rather than follow their own personal or family traditions. That said, 70% of the group confessed to having crossed their fingers at some point or other. They also couldn’t resist making a wish when blowing out their birthday candles or splitting a wishbone.
Cool, Calm & Collected?
There are some life events that tend to bring out the nervousness and superstition even in the coolest and calmest of souls. 38.67% of our participants said that they resorted to some good/bad luck ritual before a job interview and 32.67% before taking an exam. A few others only took protective measures before travelling or getting married, but the numbers were not significant. Most interestingly, only 24.81% of our UK participants said that they become quite anxious situations beyond their control, with just half the group saying that they might get “slightly” anxious. On the other hand, a whopping 65.18% do not consider themselves lucky! Which means that even though they are not the most lucky bunch, they are still quite laid back about it.
The Demographics of Superstition
It would appear that nationality isn’t the only factor that can determine how superstitious a person is. Demographics also play an important role. In Britain alone, there are many different regions and sub cultures. We divided the population into 12 different constituencies to see if there were any region specific trends. The overall figures were not very far apart, however there were some differences to be observed. Curiously, folks from the East Midlands appear to be the least superstitious, whereas Londoners and Scots were tipping the higher end of the scale. When it comes to specific actions, it must be especially rainy in Wales because 61.76% of Welsh people refuse to open their umbrellas indoors, likewise a staggering 85.29% of Welsh folks will not agree to walk under a ladder. In South East England, they appear to observe the strange superstition of not walking across three consecutive drains. If you see somebody saluting a single magpie, they are not mad, Apparently this is a common superstition which is also popular in the South!
- East Midlands folks are least superstitious
- Londoners and Scots appear to be most superstitious
- Welsh people keep their umbrellas tightly closed indoors
- Southerners will not walk over three consecutive drains, oh and they salute magpies too
Does Age Really Matter?
As with the different regions, there were not huge fluctuations between the various ages. When asked if they considered themselves to be “very” superstitions, the 25-34 age range seemed to rank highest. Those aged 45 and up are super careful not to walk under a ladder, whereas youngsters from 18-24 are more likely to avoid stepping over three consecutive drains! The youngest group was also more likely to follow their own personal superstition to avoid bad luck. Personal favourites include wearing a lucky item of clothing, wearing a lucky charm and picking special numbers when gambling. Younger people also tend to have a lower anxiety threshold and they were more likely to partake in special rituals to bring them good luck before a significant event such as a job interview or exam. Although they are more superstitious, the younger age group also appears to be more positive and consider themselves luckier than their older counterparts.
- Those aged 25-34 are most superstitious
- 45’s and over hate walking under ladders
- Youngsters from 18-34 favour personal superstitions like wearing lucky charms
- Younger people consider themselves luckier than older folks do
What About Gender?
Not surprisingly, the female participants lived up to their stereotype of being more emotional and superstitious, as opposed to the men who tended to be more pragmatic. For example, 60 women would avoid flying on Friday the 13th, as opposed to 32 men. In fact, in every question asked, women tipped the scale towards being more superstitious, except for the one relating to personal superstitions. Men said that they are more likely to invent or follow their own ritual to keep bad luck at bay. Interestingly, men and women are quite similar when it comes to gambling. 28.94% of women and 28.24% of men said that they would pick a special number when gambling. Women said that they were more likely to partake in protective rituals before important events such as interviews, travelling and getting married. More women also admitted to feeling anxious in situations that are beyond their control. In this case also, the group with the higher anxiety level considered themselves to be luckier, with 136 women saying that they feel lucky, compared with 90 lucky men.
- Women are significantly more superstitious than men
- Men prefer to follow their own superstitious rituals
- Women tend to be more anxious than men in stressful situations
- Women consider themselves to be more lucky than men do
Best of British
Apart from the obvious British superstitions such as not opening an umbrella indoors and not walking under a ladder, there is a whole list of lesser known luck related traditions that are exclusive to the UK. The survey participants brought a whole list of peculiar British superstitions to our attention, some of the highlights included:
- Avoiding saying the name Macbeth in a theatre
- Not putting shoes on the table
- Not cutting toenails on a Sunday
- Not purchasing house no.13
- Avoiding green on a boat
- Avoiding cracks in the pavement
- Saying “white rabbits” on the first of the month
- Holding your breath if walking under a street sign
- Concentrating on a Thai Buddhist flag before Leicester City play
- Betting against the team you support
- Pulling your earlobe
- Using a lucky coin to play scratch cards
When it came to personal superstitions some of the contributions were quite creative. Our favourites included: Kissing one’s chest three times, wearing lucky jewelry, never saying never, always wearing the same outfit to a team’s football match, wearing green on Saturdays, throwing salt over your left shoulder and never walking in the shade when it’s sunny out. One of the participants even felt that luck would remain on his side if he stayed single!
How Do Other Nations Compare?
The Brits certainly have some quirky ways of protecting themselves from bad luck, but what about the other nations of the world? You would be correct in guessing that there are some interesting contributions from our international fellows, reflecting the various cultural nuisances and characteristics.
The Egyptians, for example, believe that it is bad luck to open and close scissors without actually cutting anything. The Germans refuse to make a toast over a glass of water as this is equal to wishing death upon your drinking buddy! When walking past a graveyard, the Japanese tuck in their thumbs to protect their parents from death. In most Western countries, Friday the 13th is considered unlucky, in Spain however Tuesday the 13th is the unluckiest day! To discover more fascinating and often times hilarious superstitions from around the world, take a look at our illustrated guide to superstitions around the world.
The conclusion of our study is that the British are, generally speaking, not the most superstitious nation in the world. However, they certainly have some quirky ways of ensuring that luck remains on their side, in a humorous and understated manner of course!