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Did Women and Children Really Go First?

(Photo: Matthias Burch)

Here’s a new study to keep in mind if you go to see the 3D rerelease of James Cameron’s Titanic. Economist Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson analyzed data from 18 maritime disasters from 1852 to 2011, and found that the old wisdom of “women and children first” isn’t quite what happens. From the abstract:

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, that the gender gap in survival rates has declined, that women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks, and that there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms. Taken together, our findings show that behavior in life-and-death situation is best captured by the expression ‘Every man for himself.’

The authors found that:

·         Women fare worse in disasters involving British ships than ships of other nationalities

·         Women have a survival disadvantage compared to men both in earlier days and today

·         A powerful captain can increase the survival rate of women

·         Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers