Sinking ships don’t put women and children first

From the abstract of this paper:

Since the sinking of the Titanic, there has been a widespread belief that the social norm of “women and children first” (WCF) gives women a survival advantage over men in maritime disasters, and that captains and crew members give priority to passengers.

We analyze a database of 18 maritime disasters spanning three centuries, covering the fate of over 15,000 individuals of more than 30 nationalities. Our results provide a unique picture of maritime disasters.

Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared with men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers.

We also find that:

-the captain has the power to enforce normative behavior;

-there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms;

-women fare no better when they constitute a small share of the ship’s complement;

-the length of the voyage before the disaster appears to have no impact on women’s relative survival rate;

-the sex gap in survival rates has declined since World War I;

-and women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks.

Taken together, our findings show that human behavior in life-and-death situations is best captured by the expression “every man for himself.”


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