Who survived the Titanic and why?

Bruno Frey, David Savage, and Benno Torgler report:

paper explores the determinants of survival in a life-and-death
situation created by an external and unpredictable shock. We are
interested in seeing whether pro-social behaviour matters in such
extreme situations. We therefore focus on the sinking of the RMS
Titanic as a quasi-natural experiment to provide behavioural evidence
that is rare in such a controlled and life threatening event. The
empirical results support that social norms such as “women and children
first” survive in such an environment. We also observe that women of
reproductive age have a higher probability of surviving among women. On
the other hand, we observe that crew members used their information
advantage and their better access to resources (e.g. lifeboats) to
generate a higher probability of surviving. The paper also finds that
passenger class, fitness, group size, and cultural background matter.

You’ll find a more speculative treatment here:

British passengers on the Titanic died in disproportionate numbers
because they queued politely for lifeboats while Americans elbowed
their way on, an Australian researcher believes.

Savage, a behavioural economist at the Queensland University of
Technology, studied four 20th-century maritime disasters to determine
how people react in life and death situations. He concluded that, on
the whole, behaviour is influenced by altruism and social norms, rather
than a “survival of the fittest” mentality. However, on the Titanic he
noted Americans were 8.5 per cent more likely to survive than other
nationalities, while British passengers were 7 per cent less likely to

“The only things I can put that down to are: there
would have been very few Americans in steerage or third class; and the
British tend to be very polite and queue.” (The ship’s first-class
staterooms were closest to the lifeboat deck.)

Savage admits there is no direct evidence for his hypothesis concerning the Americans.

I thank Leonardo Monasterio, a loyal MR reader, for the pointer.  Here is Leonardo’s post on Greg Clark.


An endorsement for John Galt?

Since when was our evolutionary history concerned with the survival of the species?

Leonardo disses Gregory Clark for referring to Dierdre McCloskey, a transgendered person, as a man.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED to hear that James Cameron's "Titanic" reflected modern prejudices rather than historical reality.

Interesting--completely makes sense that Americans were always pushy as hell, but how can i blame anyone when life and death is at stake I would be on the lifeboat as well.


There may not be a lot of evidence to support Savage's claim that the English are nicer than Americans, but there is evidence of the exact opposite being true:


This paper is now forthcoming in JEBO.

Maybe Brits made up a larger proportion of the lower class ticketholders.

Michael, it is just because it took time for the Titanic to sink that pro-social behaviour could influence
the probability of survival. If this would have happened in seconds, only luck or physical factors would have
had an influence.

In traffic theory, orderly traffic has better throughput than aggressive traffic. How is it different such that it breaks down here?

The phrase 'social norms' rather begs the question: which social norms? Grid-group cultural theory, established by anthropologist Mary Douglas, goes some way to answering this question by supplying a typology of four cultural biases or world views that together account for the full range of possible approaches to risk. See The Dam Bursts for an application that is very relevant to this shipwreck research.

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