The phrase “one in a million” is commonly used to describe something extremely rare or unique. But how rare is this number, truly? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of statistics, probabilities, and real-world scenarios to understand the rarity of 1 in a million.
Probability gives us a measure of the likelihood of a particular event happening. When we say something has a “one in a million” chance, we’re essentially saying that if the event were to be repeated a million times, we’d expect that particular outcome just once.
If you were to flip a coin, the probability of getting heads is 0.5. But the probability of flipping heads 20 times in a row is roughly 1 in a million.
Winning a major lottery often has odds way worse than 1 in a million. Yet, people buy tickets hoping to be that one rare winner.
While 1 in a million might sound extremely rare, in some contexts, especially in our vast world, it might not be as rare as you think.
Given the global population surpassing 7 billion, there are over 7,000 occurrences of “one in a million” events globally.
A disease affecting 1 in a million people sounds rare, but it would still mean around 7,000 people worldwide suffer from it.
The Rarity Scale
Where does 1 in a million stand in the grand scale of rarity?
- Common: Odds like 1 in 10 or 1 in 100. For example, the chances of being born with extra fingers or toes.
- Rare: Odds like 1 in 10,000. An example would be the likelihood of being struck by lightning in a year.
- Extremely Rare: 1 in a million events, like getting a royal flush in poker on the first five cards dealt.
- Almost Impossible: Odds surpassing 1 in a billion, such as winning multiple major lottery jackpots in a lifetime.
Why We Misunderstand Rarity
Humans aren’t naturally adept at understanding large numbers. We might feel that if something has a one in a million chance, it’ll never happen. However, with billions of people on Earth and countless events happening daily, even extremely rare events can and do occur.
The media often highlights rare and extraordinary events, skewing our perception of their true rarity.
Humans are prone to biases like the availability heuristic, where we judge the likelihood of events based on their availability in our memories.
The term “one in a million” evokes a sense of extreme rarity. While it undoubtedly represents a small probability, in the grand scheme of our vast world and the myriad of events happening daily, such occurrences are not as rare as we might intuitively believe. By understanding the true nature of probabilities and the contexts in which they apply, we can better navigate the world of chance and rarity.