If you're an anxiety-prone person, the world is just one giant disaster waiting to happen. Consider the case of the U.S: It wasn't long before terrorism made Cold War fears look laughable. Then came war, economic instability, climate change fears (Hurricanes! Fires! Ocean dead zones!), and more war. You could have reasonably spent the last few decades curled up in bed, cowering.
But the most commonly held fears harbored by U.S. residents don't necessarily translate worldwide. In the Middle East, people are justifiably more concerned about military hostilities and gas prices. In Mexico, citizens are worried about crime. And in unemployment-plagued Spain, residents are most worried about—you guessed it—unemployment (above 25% at last count).
Every year for the past decade, marketing communications firm JWT has created an Anxiety Index—a survey of what people are most anxious about in 27 countries around the world. This year, people in the conflict-plagued Middle East are most anxious (82%), while people in South Asia are, for whatever reason, least anxious overall (63%). North Americans are not much more anxious than the South Asians, at 64%. Here's the birds-eye view of the breakdown:
And this is the breakdown of overall anxiety by market (a graph of how survey respondents answered the following question: "Overall, given everything that is going on in the world, the country and your family’s life, how nervous or anxious would you say you currently are?"):
These are the topics that make people most anxious around the world:
There is nothing here that should be too surprising. In areas with economic instability, people are worried about the economy. In places with serious social and political problems, those are top of mind.
The one exception is Colombia, which is more concerned about climate change than any other issue. How can that be in a country dealing with social problems that rival many other countries' concerns?
Part of the reason is that climate change has been very visible in Colombia, which is in the top three countries most vulnerable to global rising temperatures, according to Frank Pearl, Colombia's former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. More floods and suffering coffee crops yields due to climate variability has convinced residents that global warming is an imminent threat.
Other highlights of the study:
- South Koreans are most worried about unemployment and gas prices—but not war with neighboring North Korea.
- The Japanese are concerned about the budget deficit and, of course, natural disasters.
- In recession-hit North America, people are most worried about the economy and cost of living, but more so in the U.S. than in Canada.
- People in Western Europe are anxious about a lot of things, but economy and cost of living concerns are highest in France and Spain. People in Finland, Germany, and the U.K. are much less anxious than other Western Europeans.
Why is a a marketing communications company interested in anxiety levels around the world? JWT explains on its website:
When consumers are anxious—whether about their health or safety or their finances—they tend to exert more control over areas of their lives that are within their control, whether that means using more coupons at the supermarket or assuming greater management of their health care. Often, control applies to brand and product choices. This means brands must understand their consumers’ anxieties and address them proactively.
In other words, you can't market effectively to Western Europeans if you don't take into account (and play on) their economic anxieties. Check out the Anxiety Index through the years here.