The Loh Down On Science

Going Overboard

Women and chidren first ... sometimes.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, asking, does the captain always go down with the ship?

Economists at Sweden’s University of Uppsala recently wondered whether social norms like “women and children first” really apply to maritime disasters.

So they analyzed the Titanic plus 17 other shipwrecks since the 1850s. They reviewed passenger and crew lists, tallying who survived and whether or not captains went down to Davy Jones’s locker.

In general? Surprise! Crew members had the highest survival rate of all. Captains were next. For passengers, women fared worse than men.

The lowest survival rate of all? Children. So much for “women and children first.”

Comparatively, Titanic was a titanic exception.

More than 70 percent of female passengers and 50 percent of children survived, while less than 20 percent of the males did. And we all know what happened to the captain.

The economists say the costs of social-norm compliance exceeded the benefits in these disasters. But they stress it’s a generalization. Some people will always put others first.

Like Leo’s Jack Dawson! Wait, he’s fictional. Uh oh.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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