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
Published version

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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In this book Andreas Bergh, Therese Nilsson, IFN and Lund University, and Daniel Waldenström, IFN and Paris School of Economics, France, review the latest research on the relationship between inequality and health. What does inequality mean for our health? Does increasing income inequality affect outcomes such as obesity, life expectancy and subjective well-being?

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