MONDAY, July 30 (HealthDay News) -- Women and children first? It's actually been more like women and children last, according to a new study of ship disasters going back to the 19th century.
"'Women and children first' is a myth and human behavior in life-and-death situations seems to be better described by 'every man for himself,'" said study co-author Oscar Erixson, a graduate student at Uppsala University, in Sweden.
That doesn't sound very gallant at all. A specialist in human behavior, however, questioned the value of the research and said the study is weak.
"Women and children first" is a longtime disaster protocol, especially in shipwrecks, and it's been controversial for at least a century. Debate broke out in the United Kingdom after the Titanic's sinking over whether women deserved special treatment at the same time that suffragists were demanding equality of the genders.
A 2010 study by other researchers suggested that women are more likely to survive a sinking ship if it sinks slowly, allowing the women-and-children priority to take hold. The new study, however, looks at a larger number of shipwrecks and uses its results to debunk that idea.
The researchers examined 16 ship disasters from 1852 (when a British ship ran aground in the Indian Ocean, killing 365) to 2011 (when a Russian cruise ship sank off Russia, killing 110.) The most famous ship disaster, the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, is included, along with the runner-up: the wartime sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 due to a German torpedo attack.
The Titanic was unusual because women were more than three times more likely to survive than men, the researchers wrote. Overall, they found, women were less than half as likely as men to survive ship disasters. Children seem to be even less fortunate.
The authors zing the British in particular: "women fare worse, rather than better, relative t
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