Study: "Every man for himself" on sinking ships


A replica of one of the Titanic's few lifeboats.



Turns out that chivalry isn't dead — it just never existed, at least on sinking ships.

According to new research from Sweden — a place where gender equality is more of a reality than most other places — throughout history, men have tended to get themselves on lifeboats far more often than women and children.

The researchers, economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson at Uppsala University, looked at 18 disasters over the past 300 years.

It's a pretty representative sample of wrecks, dealing with more than 15,000 people from more than 30 countries.

What did they find? 

Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers.  

In other words, it's mostly survival of the fittest — especially, it seems, in British wrecks.

Overall, Elinder and Erixson found that 17.8 percent of women survived, compared to 34.5 percent of men.  

You can read the whole report in English here.

The only exception was the Titanic, which went down in the North Atlantic 100 years ago this week — on April 15, 1912. In that wreck, 70 percent of the women were saved, compared to about 20 percent of the men. 

Read more: Titanic memorial voyage marks 100 years since the wreck (Video)

In that case, Captain Smith reportedly ordered that women and children should go into the lifeboats first. According to the report's research, "Officers were reported to have shot at men who disobeyed the order." So there was a bit of an incentive there to let the ladies in. The researchers found that far more women survived when the captain and crew gave the "women and children first" order.

An AP story on the study asked an expert whether this was a good idea. They found this guy.

Capt. Christer Lindvall, president of The International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations, said he was not surprised about the findings but stressed that there are no rules stating that women and children should be rescued first.

The survivors of those other wrecks, it seems, are in the clear. According to the researchers:

Taken together, our findings show that behavior in life-and-death situation is best captured by the expression ‘Every man for himself’.