Women and Children First

25 March 2011 at 10:11 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Titanic disaster. Well, everything behavioral economists want to know, namely who survived — a case study in “Behavior under Extreme Conditions” (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2011). Bruno Frey, David Savage and Benno Torgler note that the “common assumption . . . that in such situations, self-interested reactions will predominate and social cohesion is expected to  ate and social cohesion is expected to disappear. . . . However, empirical evidence on the extent to which people in the throes of a disaster react with self-regarding or with other-regarding behavior is scanty.” Fortunately (?), the sinking of the Titanic provides “a quasi-natural field experiment to explore behavior under extreme conditions of life and death.”

Examining data on the social and demographic characteristics of survivors and non-survivors they find that women and children were more likely to survive, other things equal, as well as the wealthy and those in a stronger social network (traveling with family members, or being  part of the crew). A morbidly interesting paper, to be sure.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera.

McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership An Early Example of a Hold-up. . .

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard Ebeling  |  25 March 2011 at 11:11 am

    I have not read this article, yet. But years ago I read historian Walter Lord’s famous account of the Titanic, “A Night to Remember.”

    What struck me, though having read it so many years ago I don’t recall all the details, was his description of the orderly and “gentlemanly” manner in which virtually all the male passengers behaved. Women and children first; the ship’s orchestra continuing to play on deck; the way that those about to face death attempted, almost to the last, to act in a “civilized” manner.

    To the extent that this account was more or less true, it convinced me that that there was something humane and truly dignified in that slightly post-Victorian era.

    And it made me wonder if our society was as “civilized” as theirs.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 2. FC  |  26 March 2011 at 6:57 am

    I’m disappointed they didn’t use “The Cold Equations” somewhere in the title.

  • 3. FC  |  26 March 2011 at 7:12 am

    Having now read the abstract, I wonder what the authors would say about the extreme examples of shipwreck behavior, the Meduse and the Birkenhead.

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