February 23, 2015 - 10:12 am
The comparison most often made when talking about the mammoth improbability of winning the lottery is a lightning strike. It’s true: You’re far more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 12,000) than win the lottery (roughly 1 in 258.9 million).
That said, when it comes to extremely unlikely occurrences, 1 in 12,000 is practically dime-a-dozen. You’ll become a human lightning rod before you die in an avalanche, contract fatal food poisoning or see the Houston Astros win the World Series in 2015 (negligible, all of them).
It’s time to change the conversation surrounding the lottery, a pipe dream Americans throw about $66.5 billion dollars at yearly, according to USA Today. It’s a game that’s largely for poor people to lose, as numerous studies have shown: Take the Indiana University report that correlated increased lottery sales with unemployment, or a MarketWatch survey that found 38 percent of low-income respondents think winning the lottery is the most practical route to wealth.
So let’s take lightning strikes off the table. Here are 20 things that will almost certainly happen to you before you win the lottery.
1. Being Crushed by a Meteorite
You’re actually more likely to be killed by a meteorite than hit by one, according to Discover Magazine. That’s because the conditions (earth big, your head small) make it unrealistic that a meteorite would find and hit you — but the odds of a bigger asteroid causing enough havoc to take you and many others out is statistically more probable (about 1 in 700,000, according to astronomer Alan Harris).
Either way, that’s all more likely than you buying the winning lottery ticket.
2. Contracting Ebola in the U.S.
Based on the 12 reported cases of Ebola stateside last year, the odds are about 1 in 13.3 million that you’ll contract the virus this year, according to NPR. (Compare that with the odds that you’d contract Ebola in Monrovia this week alone: 1 in 5,000.)
3. Becoming the Next Warren Buffett
His advice is to get rich slowly, but what are the odds that you’ll amount billions in your lifetime like the Oracle of Omaha? According to Investopedia, about 1 in 785,000 Americans were billionaires in 2009 — and it’s a Sisyphean journey to the top, especially if you don’t have the benefit of already being pretty well off. According to Columbia University’s Thomas A. DiPrete, Americans in the middle and upper-middle classes have only about a 5 percent or 6 percent chance of increasing their earnings to over $340,000 annually.
Those are some slim odds for the already well-heeled, but you can’t discount the one thing more American than apple pie and the Super Bowl: our boundless optimism that we, unlike everyone else, will actually beat the system. A 2003 Gallup poll found nearly a third of Americans believe they’ll be rich in their lifetimes. The Great Recession, wet blanket of the aughts, brought that fraction down a bit, but more than one-fifth of Americans still think they’ll be millionaires in the next 10 years, according to a 2011 AP-CNBC poll.
What that says is the odds of you getting rich without trying — like buying a lottery ticket but not funding your 401(k) — aren’t worth getting complacent.
4. Dying in a Plane Crash
For being a strictly mathematical concept, odds are wildly imprecise. Take the huge variation in reporting for this one; NPR puts your odds of plummeting from the sky at about 1 in 11 million, while PBS estimates a much more frightening 1 in 1 million.
5. Being Canonized
In his book “Life: The Odds,” author Gregory Baer pegs your chances of becoming a saint at 1 in 20 million, given that about 100 billion people have ever existed and about 5,000 have been canonized. According to Baer, you can greatly increase your odds by becoming the pope.
6. Getting Audited
This is one of the likeliest occurrences on our list, with a 1 in 175 chance it’ll happen to you. The good news is your odds are going down year by year — about a decade ago, you’d have a 1 in 100 chance of getting audited, but budget cuts over the last several years have put audits on the IRS’s back burner. The best way to decrease your chances of getting audited (besides accurately reporting your income and filing your taxes responsibly, of course)? Be poor. According to Baer, a six-figure income makes you six times more vulnerable to an audit.
7. Being a U.S. President
Your chances are about 1 in 10 million, according to Baer, but those odds increase drastically when you’re between the ages of 40 and 72, a law school graduate, military veteran, religious, above 6 feet tall and male.
8. Being Wrongfully Convicted of a Crime
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited the odds of a wrongful conviction at about 0.027 percent — or 1 in 3,703 — in an 2006 court opinion. This was based on rough math an Oregon district attorney cobbled together for a New York Times op-ed, but many experts place your odds of being wrongfully convicted much higher. What’s more, it’s correlated to the severity of the crime. For example, University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross guesses that there’s about a 4.1 percent error rate among convictions that end in death sentences — that’s 1 in 24.
9. Becoming a Movie Star
Your chances are about 1 in 1.5 million of becoming a film star — roughly 170 times more likely than winning the lottery, meaning you’d be better off buying a ticket to Los Angeles than a Powerball scratcher.
10. Dying From Being a Left-Handed Person Who Misuses Right-Handed Products
Don’t laugh — apparently this happens to 1 in 7 million people, which is about 45 Americans.
11. Writing a New York Times Best Seller
If you’re already a published author, this is actually stupid easy — it’s about a 1 in 220 chance you’ll end up on the best-seller list. According to Baer, you actually have worse odds of catching a foul ball at a baseball game (1 in 563).
12. Becoming an Astronaut
Since the shuttering of the U.S. space program, being an astronaut means a lot less time in outer space and a lot more time behind a desk doing complicated math problems. Either way, for that privilege you’re facing odds of about 1 in 12.1 million.
13. Losing an Appendage in a Chainsaw Accident
Shockingly likely — you have about a 1 in 4,464 chance of this happening to you, according to CBS News.
14. Death by Hot Tap Water
This scalding demise happens to 1 in 5 million people.
15. Being Deemed Possessed by Satan
According to Gizmodo, your chances that “the power of Christ compels you” are about 1 in 7,000.
16. Going to the E.R. With a Pogo Stick-Related Injury
This completely preventable accident affects 1 in 115,300 Americans, according to Deseret News.
17. Winning an Olympic Gold Medal
You have about a 1 in 662,000 chance of taking home Olympic gold in your life — and, of course, you have to get yourself into the games first. The Canadian YouTube channel AsapSCIENCE ran the numbers on how to increase your chances of becoming a winter Olympian, finding that hailing from Liechtenstein gave you the best odds at the Sochi Olympics (four Olympians from a population of about 36,000).
Curling is your best bet for a sport, given its high number of participants and the fact that many curling Olympians are in their 40s (compared to the average figure skater, which can’t rent a car in the U.S.). And, empirically, according to AsapSCIENCE, curlers are not in what many would consider “Olympian” shape. No offense, Canada (or Liechtenstein).
18. Winning an Oscar
You have about a 1 in 11,500 chance of winning an Academy Award — though keep in mind that figure includes a bunch of technical categories that most viewers use as bathroom breaks during the broadcast.
19. Having a Genius Child
According to CNN, only 2 percent to 5 percent of children are actually “gifted,” and the fraction shrinks precipitously once the word “genius” starts getting thrown around — you only have about a 1 in a million chance of birthing a prodigy. What that means is you’re more likely to have a kid who gets accepted to Harvard at 10 than you are to win millions in the lottery, but you’re also much, much more likely to be the deluded parent who lionizes your child’s accomplishments when in actuality he is, like most children, average.
20. Having Conjoined Twins
In fact, you’re about five times as likely to have conjoined twins as you are to have a genius child, with odds of 1 in 200,000, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.