Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias

Behav Res Ther. 1996 Jan;34(1):33-9. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(95)00048-3.


Point prevalence of specific fears and phobias was determined in 704 respondents of 1000 randomly selected adults aged 18-70 yr. A phobia for lightning, enclosed spaces, darkness, flying, heights, spiders, snakes, injections, dentists and/or injuries was defined if subjects reported a fear that was out of conscious control, interfered with life and lead to the avoidance of the feared object [American Psychiatric Association, 1994. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edn). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.] Fear intensity was assessed using visual analogue scales. A factor analysis generally supported the classification of fears and phobias into: (1) situational phobias (lightning, enclosed spaces, darkness, flying and heights); (2) animal phobias (spiders and snakes); and (3) mutilation phobias (injections, dentists, injuries). Total point prevalence of any specific phobia was 19.9% (26.5% for females and 12.4% for males). In total, 21.2% women and 10.9% men met criterias for any single specific phobia. Multiple phobias was reported by 5.4% of the females and 1.5% of the males. Animal phobia had a prevalence of 12.1% in women and 3.3% in men. Point prevalence of situational phobia was 17.4% in women and 8.5% in men. For mutilation phobia no gender difference was observed, being presented in 3.2% of the women and 2.7% of the men. Women as compared to men gave higher fear ratings for all objects and situations. Inanimate object fears and phobias were more common in older than younger individuals. Animal fears were more intense in younger than in older individuals. Fear of flying increased and fear of injections decreased as a function of age in women but not in men. Thus, specific fears and phobias are heterogeneous with respect to sex and age distribution.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires