It has mostly been “every man for himself” in 18 maritime disasters spanning three centuries, according to a recently released study by Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm.
Titled Every Man for Himself, Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters, Elinder and Erixson state that despite the popular belief that women and children are evacuated first, that has not been the case for most of the 15,000 individuals of more than 30 nationalities involved in the 18 incidents, with the exception of the Titanic.
However, the captain can order the evacuation of women and children first, as the captain did on the Titanic, they wrote. That order comes at a cost to the captain, however, because with the order he has to remain onboard until all women and children have been rescued. The study concluded that leadership is all-important during a disaster. In the incidents studied, the researchers pointed out that “only” seven captains went down with their ship.
According to the findings, women have suffered a survival disadvantage, compared to men, and captains and crew have survived at a significantly higher rate than passengers, which the researchers attributed partially to their training, familiarity with the ship and having access to information that passengers do not have.
That men have a higher survival rate was attributed to them being physically stronger allowing them to move faster through corridors and stairways, which can be difficult with congestion, debris and a listing ship. Men were also considered to be more aggressive, competitive and have greater ability to swim.
Thus, men are more likely to survive, unless they engage in self-sacrificing helping behavior, but the evidence suggested that has not been common. Thus, Elinder and Erixson wrote that it has been the policy of the captain, not the moral sentiment of men, that has helped rescue women and children.
While no cruise ship incidents were included, the study covered ferries and a riverboat from 1994 to 2011, and other incidents from 1852 until 1986.