Daniel Treisman’s NBER paper on “The Geography of Fear” is full of entertaining facts, like:

[P]redispositions to fear vary systematically across countries, and map the geography of fearfulness, concentrating on Europe for which data are most plentiful. I show that variation in fearfulness is correlated with–but only partly explained by–variation in pessimism (overestimation of the probability of unpleasant outcomes)…

Of course, some countries are more dangerous than others. Their inhabitants might be more afraid simply because they have more to be afraid of. This, I argue, can explain only a small part of the variation. Some dangers–world war, nuclear conflict–are inherently global in scope, and variation in fear of these is both large and correlated with fear of other threats. For certain dangers one can compare levels of fear to objective measures of the risk. I show that the correlations between these are often weak, non-existent, or even negative. For instance, fear of contracting swine flu in 2009 tended to be lower in countries where the infection rate was higher.


Within Western Europe, the southern, Mediterranean countries–Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy–tend to be the most fearful. If we rank countries on the frequency of reported fear, Portugal and Greece are in the top three for all eight of the dangers from EB2000 shown here, and Spain is in the top three for six. In EB2005, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus are the leaders, sometimes joined by Malta and France. The former communist countries, included in this survey, appear somewhat more afraid than the Western European ones on average–although not of putting on weight, which seems to be a characteristically Western concern… At the other end of the scale, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, and sometimes Denmark and Sweden tend to be among the most fearless in all surveys.

The article has an unusually high ratio of speculation to data for an NBER piece, but you’ve got to give Treisman credit for sticking his neck out.  “Trust” is a huge issue in social science; will “fear” be next?