It Turns Out That “Women and Children First” in the Case of Shipwrecks is a Myth

Over 100 years after the Titanic sank, two Swedish researchers have revealed that when it comes to sinking ships, male chivalry is a myth and more men generally survive such disasters than do women and children. Economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon of Uppsala University conducted a study of 18 of the world’s most famous maritime disasters and found that captains and their crews are more likely to survive a shipwreck than their passengers, and that their training and experience likely play a significant role in their survival. While the number of women and children who survived is higher than the number of men who survived the Titanic disaster, that event is not representative of maritime disasters in general. For example, wide disparities between the sexes were found in the 1994 sinking of the MS Estonia in the Baltic Sea, which killed 852 people. Only 5.4% of the women onboard survived, compared to 22% of the men. The researchers noted that men, thanks to their physical strength, have better chances of surviving than women, barring self-sacrifice. Their findings showed that behavior in life-or-death situations is best captured by the expression “every man for himself.”