THE TITANIC CENTENNIAL: April 15 marks the hundredth anniversary of the fabled disaster. Part of the history was the "Women and children first!" criteria for lifeboat access. Well, that piqued the interest of C.O. at THE ECONOMIST, with an article, "Women and children first?".
Survival on board the Titanic is famous for its gender bias: roughly three out of four women survived, and almost half of the children, but only around 20% of men and crew. Social norms, an important building block of an economy, seem to hold up even in the most extreme of circumstances. Or should we say British norms? The recent Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Italy, in which the captain abandoned his sinking ship, led to discussions of British chivalry at sea.
A new and timely paper from Sweden tries to shed some further light on the issue. Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson of Uppsala University have looked at 18 peace-time shipwrecks for which they could find detailed data. The results are striking. Women had a lower chance of survival in 11 out of 18 instances. Only on two ships was it an advantage to be a woman: on the Birkenhead in 1852 and on the Titanic. The best odds of survival on average were, somewhat surprisingly, those of the crew, followed by none other than the captain. Children were worst off.