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The Terror Crunch
June 5 , 2006
Maia Szalavitz
Newsweek forgets to correct the other error in its infamous story on the odds of a woman over 40 marrying

Last week, Newsweek finally corrected the major mistake it made in its notorious 1986 cover story, “The Marriage Crunch,” which claimed that women over 40 are “more likely to be killed by a terrorist,” than to get married. The article claimed that after the big 4-0, a woman’s chances of tying the knot were just 2.6 percent — a statistic that lived on in popular culture despite numerous attempts to debunk it.

This year, the magazine finally admitted its critics were right. The odds of marriage for women that age are far higher — more like 40 percent, at least as of 1996. But the magazine failed to correct the second error in its doomsday statistic. When and where were the odds of being killed by a terrorist ever as high as 2.6 percent?

In 1985, the odds of an American being killed by a terrorist (let alone an American woman over the age of 40) were 1 in 1.6 million, according to mathematician John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy .

And even though there were 3,457 deaths caused worldwide by international terrorism in 2001 — according to the U.S. State Department — the chance of an American dying in a terror attack in that grim year was .0012 percent

The author of the flawed Newsweek article claims the terror comparison was made “in jest,” but it was in the middle of a supposed news article in a major news weekly, with no indication that it wasn’t a genuine comparison.

Of course, if one’s lifetime chances of being killed by a terrorist were actually close to 3 percent, terrorists would kill more Americans than cars do, given that the lifetime odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 228, according to the National Safety Council.