Working Paper No. 913

Every Man for Himself! Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters

Published: April 10, 2012Pages: 78Keywords: Social Norms; Disaster; Women and children first; Mortality; High stakes JEL-codes: C70; D63; D81; J16

Every Man for Himself! Gender, 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’ gives women a survival advantage over men in maritime disasters, and that captains and crew 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, 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’.

Mikael Elinder

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