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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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Aug 11, 2012 12:56AM

Oh, and one more thing, you blithering whipped idiot:


Got to usnews.nbcnews.com and look up "hero boy 4 dies after saving 3 year old girl in pool".

Aug 8, 2012 2:32AM

Commenting only on this article, not the study, which I haven't read:

Why is Jeremy Greenberg such a male chauvinist pig? Why does he think women lack capacity and responsibility for courage and self-sacrifice? Jeremy says men have failed the test, but it doesn't even occur to him to expect women to take the test. And he's relying on data that's mostly more than a century old.

If Jeremy could take 5 minutes off from sucking up to women by trashing men, he might be able to consider the possibility that the high death rate for children in shipwrecks is due to women abandoning them. I doubt most 19th century males were taking primary responsibility for supervising children.

Jeremy links above to an LA Times article which includes a picture of the Costa Concordia--that's the Italian cruise ship that went all Poseidon Adventure a while ago. The caption below the picture disingenuously says that the Concordia crash "partially fit[s] the pattern."

The LA Times bases this asinine claim on the fact that Brave Sir Ship Captain Schettino ran away. Like the feckless eff in the Aurora movie theater who abandoned his girlfriend and two children. Both Schettino and that guy are in the minority when it comes to male cowardice vs courage.

Jeremy, here's some math homework for you. You're a boy, if not a real live one, so you should be good at both arithmetic and rescuing females:

Do an internet search on concordia hero*. That should capture "heroism," "hero(es)" and "heroine(s)." Count the number of stories about male heroism compared to female. Express this number as a ratio. Be sure you put the female number on top, or you may have a divide by zero error.

I spent less than 5 minutes on this and found 5 men but not a single woman who acted heroically in the Costa Concordia disaster. I'm sure you'll find women who behaved heroically if you search longer. Please post the ratio when you do. To keep this fair, I'm setting a 2 day time limit, but if you do get to more than a 10% ratio, I will call your wife and tell her to be nicer to you and to award you a Participation Trophy.

Extra credit: do the same analysis on the Aurora movie theater massacre.

Aug 3, 2012 6:58PM
James Cameron's movie about Sept.11th:
WTC Designer: We had the option to build with stronger steel, but we wanted to present a bold image to the world. We wanted to prove that America trusted the safety of it's airlines. The burning jet fuel will pour down the elevator shaft, causing intense heat at all levels due to the steel beams woven throughout the building.
Fire Chief: But the World Trade Center can't collapse!
WTC Designer: She's made of steel, sir! I assure you she can, and will. It is a mathematical certainty. In an hour, two at most, both towers will be dust on the streets of Manhattan.
Desperate caller : Will you let me live, Man?!
911 Operator: Stay put, sir. That's what I've been instructed to tell all of the poor people in Tower 2. Don't move. Stay where you are!
Desperate caller: But the bloody building is coming down!
Fireman (holding up hand to stop Cal) Sorry sir. The stairway is being preserved for the escape of women and children only.
Cal: What the bloody hel?! Why?
Fireman: Their bodies burn quicker.
Cal: How do you know? Have you performed an experiment?
Fireman: Well, they're easier for us firemen to carry out.
Cal: No they aren't! Children are squirmy little brats who run off and get lost, and women are squeamish about where you touch them.
Fireman: Look, when we have to report the death toll, it just sounds better if we got all the women and children out.
Cal: I'll bet your salary is paid primarily by men! Oh, for Christ's sake! Look, I have to run to the roof anyway, but I'll be back down. Here! (He stuffs a huge wad of bills into the fireman's pocket) We have a deal then?
Fireman: Dang! I had better find some way to protect this pocket! (He radios the chief) Did we remember to bring any fire-retardant blankets?
Chief radios back: No, but speaking of retarded, you gotta stop telling people to stay in the building. Most stairwells are only half full and I saw one with only twelve people in it! Twelve!
Jack: Rose, you're so stupid! Why did you do that, Rose?! Why did you run to the top of the building?
Rose: You jump, I jump. Right?
The building starts to collapse, taking a full 20 minutes to slowly make it's way down. Rose and Jack ride it huddled together, clinging to the top and watching the ground carefully as it gets closer.
Jack: Now Rose, we need to stay on top of the building as long as possible, okay? Don't jump off until I say so. Grab my hand now so we won't get lost in the rubble. Ready.... set... Jump Rose! Now!
Both jump, but find themselves surrounded by rubble, hanging over a long high bar by their clasped hands.
Rose: Jack, my hand is getting tired. I think I pulled an arm muscle.
Jack: Okay. Let go.
Rose: But I'm hanging over some sharp glass.
Jack: Well, my side is fine, so let's rotate around and I'll fall on the glass when we let go.
They rotate and let go of eachother's hands. Jack falls to his death. Rose finds his dead body and calls out to it, "I won't let go, Jack!"
Cue song.
Aug 3, 2012 6:30PM

Many of you are not taking into consideration the clothing and societal mindset of the period that the shipwrecks occurred.  Ex. When you consider that the immense majority of Titanic dead were neither first class nor the crew, those that saved the first class passengers and crewmembers weren't all that heroic.  And as pointed out earlier, this article doesn't mention whether the study included survivors in life jackets.  Women's clothing in the 19th and early 20th century was incredibly restrictive and heavy.  The women would have drowned. 

Aug 3, 2012 6:20PM
@Chris Cox Baseless is all I have to say about your comment. Look, you can wrap it up anyway you choose but in a disaster situation you have your selfless people and you have the rest. In those situations its all about survival. Plain and simple. Would I put my wife and childs life first in that situation? Absolutely. Would I put complete strangers above me...no. That doesnt make me a bad person and it doesnt make me evil. It makes me human. So please take your BS feminine argument somewhere it actually has a point.
Aug 3, 2012 6:12PM
men can be so contingency heartless, but then again what to expect, even adam in the bible cast-out lilith for demanding to be on top during sex which meant man dominates woman? this is why so many women want liberation(total equality). when are men going to stop insisting on being the dominant ones. without women there is NO HUMAN RACE!
Aug 3, 2012 6:10PM
Jerry Seinfeld: So you feel women and children first in this day and age is somewhat of an antiquated notion?
George Costanza: To some degree.
Jerry Seinfeld: So basically it's every man, woman, child and invalid for themselves?
George Costanza: In a manner of speaking.
Aug 3, 2012 5:59PM
I think survival rate of women and children in titanic was due to the reason that there was enough time to save them. In other cases, it may be like there was no time for the men to save them.
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