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.”