May 5, 2011

Paper of the day: Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster

Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster (pp. 209-22) Bruno S. Frey, David A. Savage and Benno Torgler. Journal of Economic Perspectives.
During the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage. Two hours and 40 minutes later she sank, resulting in the loss of 1,501 lives—more than two-thirds of her 2,207 passengers and crew.
[t]he Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, which could accommodate 1,178 people, or 52 percent of the people aboard.
Out of 2,207 passengers and crewmembers, 1,501 people, or 68 percent, died.
Research [and interesting] questions:
We have collected individual-level data on the passengers and crew on the Titanic, which allow us to analyze some specific questions: Did physical strength (being male and in prime age) or social status (being a first or second-class passenger) raise the survival chance? Was it favorable for survival to travel alone or in company? Does one’s role or function (being a crew member or a passenger) affect the probability of survival? Do social norms, such as “Women and children first!” have any effect? Does nationality affect the chance of survival? We also explore whether the time from impact to sinking might matter by comparing the sinking of the Titanic over nearly three hours to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, which took only 18 minutes from when the torpedo hit the ship.
[p]robit regressions . . . the dependent variable in our analysis will be whether someone survived (=1) or not (= 0).
[W]omen both as passengers and crew members had a higher probability of survival. Women passengers had, compared to men, with age and traveling class held constant, a 53 percent higher chance of survival; it was even 64 percent higher for female crew members. The fourth column reveals that persons in prime age (16 to 50) had a 16 percent higher chance to survive than older persons, which is consistent with the thesis that physical strength was important in getting to the lifeboats.
Passengers traveling first class had a more than 40 percent higher chance, and those in second class about a 16 percent higher chance, to be saved than those in third class.
[i]t did not matter for survival whether one traveled alone or in the company of family and friends.
[m]embers of the crew had, ceteris paribus, a 24 percent higher chance of saving themselves than did third-class passengers.
[There was a] high survival rates for females, first and second-class passengers, children, and a low survival rate for individuals traveling alone or with English and Swedish nationality. 
[w]omen with children had a 19 percent higher chance of surviving than women without children.
British passengers had between an Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster 217 8 or 9 percent lower chance of surviving . . .
Comparisons with the Lusitania:
In both disasters, 32 percent of the persons aboard survived.
In the Lusitania, the survival rates of women, first-class, and second-class passengers are now lower than the average survival rate.
The empirical analysis is consistent with the view that the effects of status (passengers traveling in higher classes have a better chance of surviving) and social norms (such as saving women and children first) depend on time [to sinking].
The comparison between the Titanic and the Lusitania suggests that when time is scarce, individual self-interested flight behavior predominates, while altruism and social norms and power through social status become more important if there is sufficient time for them to evolve.
Due to its creative approach to study human behavior facing catastrophes, this paper has been published in several journals. This has generated discussions. See this very interesting post, for example.

This is an example of a interesting, intelligent, and creative research to explore an important question.

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