'Women and children first' a myth: study
Published: 12 Apr 2012 07:41 GMT+02:00
Updated: 12 Apr 2012 07:41 GMT+02:00
Scientists at Uppsala University have found that the widespread belief that women and children are saved first in maritime disasters is a myth, unless the men are threatened with physical violence like on the Titanic.
“It is expected that the crew should rescue passengers, but our results show that captains and crew are more likely to survive than passengers,” said Mikael Elinder at the Department of Economics, Uppsala University and at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) in a statement.
“We also found that women and children were more inclined to die than men.”
This, the scientists think, indicates that when disaster strikes it is very much every man for himself.
For the study, researchers Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon analyzed a database containing information about passengers and crew from 18 of the most notable shipwrecks during the period 1852 to 2011, containing information about the fates of more than 15,000 people.
Elinder and Erixon found that that the survival rate of women was substantially lower than the survival rate of men.
Children had the lowest survival rate, while the highest survival rates were observed for crew and captains.
However, there is still a widespread popular belief that in a disaster, women and children will be saved first.
This, argue the scientists, is because the foundering of the Titanic, being the most researched shipwreck, has shaped our beliefs about what happens in maritime disasters, not in the least through popular culture.
And during the evacuation of the Titanic, the men stood back while women and children were given priority to board the lifeboats.
As a consequence, the survival rate of the women and children in this particular accident was much higher than that of the men.
The scientists questioned what made the Titanic so different.
One possible explanation is how the captain acts under the circumstances, according to the researchers.
On the Titanic, the captain ordered women and children to board the lifeboats first.
Men who disobeyed the order would be shot.
The scientists found that on the ships where the captain gave the order "women and children first", the difference in survival rates between men and women was lower.
But women survived to a higher extent than men only when this order was enforced by the threat of violence, the researchers found.
“The evacuation of the Titanic was exceptional, but has spurred a long-lived myth that women and children will be saved first in disasters,” said Elinder.