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'Women and Children First' is a Myth, Shipwreck Study Shows -- Unless Leonardo DiCaprio Was Involved

Rather than treasure, scientists unearth buried cowardice.

By Jeremy Greenberg Aug 3, 2012 2:19PM

Photo: Doug Plummer/Getty ImagesIf you are a woman or a child about to take an Atlantic voyage by ship, you might want to sleep a little less soundly. Swedish economists have discovered that in most cases, women and children were not put on lifeboats first, and men survived at a significantly higher rate during shipwrecks. The shipwreck study, published this week in the National Academy of Sciences , was designed to test humanity’s capacity for selflessness—a test it’s fair to say men have failed.

In the study, 18 sunken ships were examined. The survival rate was 44 percent for captains, 37 percent for male passengers, 27 percent for women, and a Darwinian 15 percent for children. Not only was chivalry dead, it appears to have been sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The evidence clearly demonstrates that men did not surrender their survival advantage. That is, except for a few famous occasions.

"On the Titanic, the survival rate of women was more than three times higher than the survival rate of men," wrote study authors Mikael Elinder of Sweden's Uppsala University and Oscar Erixson of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm.

Well, at least there’s some good news for Leonardo DiCaprio fans.

The Birkenhead, a British troopship, is the other documented sinking in which men bravely stood on deck (because they were ordered to do so) as women spun their parasols down onto the lifeboats with their little ones in hand. In fact, the Birkenhead sinking is where the concept of “women and children first” is said to have originated.

Like the Titanic, songs of male bravery celebrate the Birkenhead incident. I wonder what songs should be sung about the overwhelming majority of shipwrecks in which the fairer sex were served up as shark food? 

I guess if you ever meet a survivor, you could ask him. 

Photo: Doug Plummer/Getty Images

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