When a ship sinks, the reality is no ‘women and children first’

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Economist David Savage compares the “orderly” response of the passengers on Titanic to the panicked reaction of the passengers on the Lusitania, which sank in less than 20 minutes three years later:

“If you’ve got an event that lasts two-and-a-half hours, social order will take over and everybody will behave in a social manner,” Savage says. “If you’re going down in under 17 minutes, basically it’s instinctual.”  On the Titanic, social order ruled, and it was women and children first. On the Lusitania, instinct won out.

A recent paper (pdf) tells a different story:

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.

The Economist ponders the study:

Social norms may hold up—if a combination of other factors supports them. But depending on the circumstances, the dynamics of the situation might go either way. One example, almost trivial in comparison, is littering and the broken window theory: if we observe others breaking social norms and rules, we are more likely to do so ourselves. Maybe it is the role of an enforcer to steer the dynamics in a favourable direction. One such example might have been the captain on the Titanic.

Via The Daily Dish.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.