The Salience of Friday the 13th for College Students

By Lewis, Jerry M.; Gallagher, Timothy J. | College Student Journal, June 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Salience of Friday the 13th for College Students

Lewis, Jerry M., Gallagher, Timothy J., College Student Journal

The following study sets out to examine the salience of the cultural phenomenon of Friday the 13th among college students taking Introduction to Sociology at a large university in Ohio. The results are based on a sample of 881 students taking Introduction to Sociology from one of the authors in either the 1998/99 academic year or Fall 1999 semester. We found that 55% of students talk about the fact that it is Friday the 13th, while 31% of students would prefer not to take a sociology test on Friday the 13th. These and other results suggest that teachers should be aware of Friday the 13th during the academic calendar and may want to avoid scheduling such things as exams and term paper deadlines on those days.


College and university students are very oriented to the calender. Early on they are instructed that the successful student is one who manages his or her time well. Their syllabi delineate time factors such as class meeting times, examinations, and term paper due dates. All this sets an orderly pattern for the college student. Talcott Parsons (1953) has argued that the calender plays an important part in maintaining the equilibrium of society as it cycles through instrumental and expressive phases. For example, the week is divided into instrumental time typically 8-5, Monday through Friday and expressive time typically the weekends. One can find similar patterns for the day and the year. Holidays are generally seen as expressive time.

Most college students follow the general calender when it comes to instrumental and expressive holidays often adding a few wrinkles to the events as interpreted by the larger society, particularly expressive days. For example, St. Patrick's Day gives the college student the "right" to drink more than usual, while April Fools' Day allows the college campus the opportunity to be sillier than usual, particularly the student newspaper.

In recent years the recognition of Friday the 13th has become a popular culture phenomenon. One sees media comment about it, usually in some light-hearted manner. Friday the 13th even has a phobia named after it called "paraskavedekatriaphobia", the fear of Friday the 13th. The origins of concern for Friday the 13th are obscure. One author Wagner (1894) suggests that it combines two customs: (1) hanging in Great Britain which tended, historically, to take place on Fridays, and (2) the Last Supper where Jesus dined with his twelve disciples making a total of 13. The first person to leave after dining begins will be the first person to die. Wagner (1894, 85) writes that this is believed by some because, "Judas who was the first to quit the Supper Table, hanged himself shortly afterwards."

The most compelling presence of Friday the 13th in popular culture is in the body of work known as the "Friday the 13th" films. To date there have been nine. Most of the films involve innocents, often college aged people, killed in horrific ways by some form of a character named Jason. These films are fairly popular with college students. Beyond popular culture interest we wondered to what extent Friday the 13th is salient in the thoughts and behavior of students on a college campus, suggesting the following three questions:

1. To what extent do students show interest in Friday the 13th?

2. What are the demographic and educational performance characteristics of those students who do and do not show interest?

3. Is there any relationship between religiosity and the impact on students of Friday the 13th?


The data for this project were collected as part of a broader study of superstition and test-taking on a college campus. In our first paper we studied the relationship between superstitious practice and test taking based on data collected in the 1998/99 academic year. We found that nearly 70 percent of students indicated some level of test-related superstitious practice.

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