Planet Earth

In Shipwrecks, Women and Children Finished Last

80beatsBy Sophie BushwickJul 31, 2012 12:30 PM

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Back in the day, the unwritten rule of “women and children first” always used to govern who got a spot in a lifeboat, and who went stoically down with the ship. After all, 70 percent of the women and children on the Titanic were rescued, versus a mere 20 percent of the adult men. But then a 2010 study

compared survival rates for the Titanic and the Lusitania and concluded

that this chivalrous doctrine only prevailed in slow wrecks, when social norms had a chance to gain control of the situation. In fast descents, like the Lusitania’s 18-minute destruction, it was the fittest passengers, between the ages of 16 and 35, who had the best chance of survival. And now a new study deals another blow to “women and children first,” suggesting that this norm wasn’t normal at all. In order to determine who had the best odds of being rescued, Swedish researchers analyzed

15,000 passengers on 18 ships that went down between 1852 and 2011. They discovered that women and children usually received no preferential treatment: men survived twice as often as women, and children were the least likely to escape. And rather than going down with their ships, crewmembers had the best chances of survival. In contrast to the previous study (which only looked at the demises of two ships), the researchers found that the duration of a shipwreck had little impact on whether chivalry prevailed. Instead, the most influential factor in women and children’s treatment was whether the captain of the ship specifically gave a “women and children first” order. Without a direct command, survival of the fittest reigned as the crew and male passengers left women and children to fend for themselves. If chivalry is truly dead, then it looks like it kicked the bucket a long time ago.

Shipwreck image via Shutterstock

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