Author Nadine Hays Pisani was born on a Friday. That would be otherwise unremarkable, but the day Pisani was born also happened to be the 13th of the month. Friday the 13's an inauspicious day according to some Western superstitions, and it's something that's followed Pisani her whole life.
"Whenever that comes up in conversation, I usually get one person who looks at me strangely, as if I exude bad luck," she says via email. “I've been at a blackjack table in Atlantic City where my friend, just for fun, announced to the crowd I was born on Friday the 13th. Players actually got up and walked away from the table.”
The superstitions surrounding the number 13 can be particularly problematic for people born on the 13th day of a month, and especially for those born on Friday the 13th. But is there any science behind that? Will a person born on the 13th really contend with a lifelong streak of bad luck – and encounter far more bad luck – than people who don't share the same birthdate?
British social scientists decided to find out. They examined whether being born on the 13th of the month, and particularly on a Friday, had a lifelong impact. Did people with the 13th as a birthday have more trouble finding employment, earn less money or encounter other disadvantages?
Broken heels, dropped ice cream, ripped umbrellas... can you blame a birthday?Zero Creatives/Getty Images
Using data provided by the nearly 4 million people who participated in the U.K. Labor Force Study, researchers examined the employment status, wages and marital status of respondents born on the 13th of a month. The survey of residents across the United Kingdom allowed researchers to compile data received from people born on the 13th and compare it to that of people born on other days.
The researchers found no distinguishable difference in employment status, earned wages or marital status between people with a 13th birthdate and a birthdate falling on another number. The data essentially debunked the “unlucky 13” superstition.
Despite the rational results, you'll still find few hotels and office buildings have a 13th floor, and you'll be hard-pressed to find an airplane with a 13th row of seats or an airport with a Gate 13. In fact, flying on the 13th day of the month is so unpopular that airlines in some countries may offer deep discounts for tickets.
It makes little sense to Pisani. Any bad luck she has encountered was caused by her own decisions, not fate, she contends.
“Crashing my dad's car when I was 17 after I sneaked it out of the garage without permission," she says, "is because I was a dumb teenager. Dating that guy who broke my heart was clearly due to my inability to acknowledge someone's horrible behavior. But I've also made great decisions, some that changed my life in ways I could never have predicted.”
Several years ago, Pisani and her husband quit their jobs as chiropractors and moved to Costa Rica. “We had no friends living there, didn't even understand the language. We just knew that we did not want to spend the next 25 years stuck in the office,” she says.
Pisani went on to write a three-book series and is currently building a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica. “I made this luck by taking a chance,” she says. “Perhaps being born on Friday the 13th was the best thing that ever happened to me.”