Gender, Social Norms, and Survival in Maritime Disasters
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109(33) 13220-13224, August 14, 2012
5 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2012
Date Written: August 14, 2012
Since the sinking of the Titanic, there has been a widespread belief that the social norm of ‘women and children first’ 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 new picture of maritime disasters. Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to 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 prior to the disaster appears to have no impact on women’s relative survival rate, the gender gap in survival rates has declined since WWI, and that 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’.
Keywords: altruism, discrimination, homo economicus, leadership, mortality
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