On womenandchildren not being first to escape in shipwrecks

Our results provide new insights about human behavior in life-and-death situations. By investigating a new and much larger sample of maritime disasters than has previously been done, we show that women have a substantially lower survival rate than men. That women fare worse than men has been documented also for natural disasters (Frankenberg et al., 2011; Ikeda, 1995; MacDonald, 2005; Neumayer and Plümper, 2007; Oxfam International, 2005). We also find that crew members have a higher survival rate than passengers and that only 7 out of 16 captains went down with their ship. Children appear to have the lowest survival rate. Moreover, we shed light on some common perceptions of how situational and cultural conditions affect the survival of women. Most notably, we find that it seems as if it is the policy of the captain, rather than the moral sentiments of men, that determines if women are given preferential treatment in shipwrecks. This suggests an important role for leaders in disasters. Preferences of leaders seem to have affected survival patterns also in the evacuations of civilians during the Balkan Wars (Carpenter, 2003). Moreover, we find that the gender gap in survival rates has decreased since WWI. This supports previous findings that higher status of women in society improves their relative survival rates in disasters (Neumayer and Plümper, 2007). We also show that women fare worse, rather than better, in maritime disasters involving British ships. This contrasts with the notion of British men being more gallant than men of other nationalities. Finally, in contrast to previous studies, we find no association between duration of the disaster and the influence of social norms. Based on our analysis, it becomes evident that the sinking of the Titanic was exceptional in many ways and that what happened on the Titanic seems to have spurred misconceptions about human behavior in disasters.

–Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson, “Every man for himself: Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters,” p. 8 (bolding mine)

I would be really interested to see some analysis on how these findings complement Cynthia Enloe’s notion of ‘womenandchildren’, who are often perceived as inherent victims in conflict and disaster situations.

Also, there are definitely some connections here to other work that details how leadership and norms set by group leaders (e.g. captains) are more powerful in determining group behaviours than moral sentiments of group members. Slightly tangential, but I’m specifically thinking of Elizabeth Wood’s chapter, “Rape during War Is Not Inevitable: Variation in Wartime Sexual Violence“, which I keep meaning to post about because it is really brilliant analysis. Basically, Wood also argues that internal dynamics in armed groups are linked to immense variation in the use and absence of sexual violence in various conflicts.

Another post on Wood’s work later, but for now, the take away is that captain policy was way more important than (British) chivalry in determining if women survived a shipwreck.

And also, maybe British men may not be more gallant than men from other countries. Sorry, blokes.


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