Gender, Social Norms, and Survival in Maritime Disasters

Reprint No. 2012:31

Author(s): Mikael Elinder and Oscar ErixsonYear: 2012 Title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, PNAS Volume (No.): 109 (33) Pages: 13220–13224
Preliminary version

Gender, Social Norms, and Survival in Maritime Disasters Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson

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.”

Link to the article on PNAS web site: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/33/13220.short


Elinder, Mikael and Oscar Erixson (2012), "Gender, Social Norms, and Survival in Maritime Disasters". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, PNAS 109(33), 13220–13224.

Mikael Elinder


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