First of all, if you were a man, you were outta luck. The overall survival
rate for men was 20%. For women, it was 74%, and for children, 52%. Yes,
it was indeed "women and children first."
But what about class
? Well, third class women were 41% more
likely to survive than first class men. And third class men were twice
as likely to survive as second class men.
Yes, class is a far weaker variable in determining survival rate than sex or age.
Indeed, most of the variance in first class vs. third class survival rates can be
attributed to sex alone. The reason for this is simple: 44% of the first class
passengers were women, while only 23% of the third class passengers were women.
Because the survival rate for women was far greater than the survival rate for men,
we would thus expect a much higher survival rate for first class passengers
as a whole than for third class passengers as a whole.
Although this analysis is incandescently obvious, it never seems to show up
in mass media treatments of the Titanic disaster. Why is that?
And sex and age differences aside, why would anyone be surprised that passengers
in steerage would have a lower survival rate than passengers topside close to the
boat deck? (For the findings of Lord Mersey's Enquiry regarding the survival
rate for third class passengers, see below under Lord Mersey's Report
The table to the right, Actual survival rates by sex, age, and class compared to expected survival
rates based on sex and age alone
, clarifies the variance in survival rates
associated with (but not necessarily caused by) class. If sex and age were the only variables
determining probability of survival, we would expect women in each class to have
a 74.35% chance of survival, children to have a 52.29% chance, and men to have a 20% chance.
Applying these percentages to the actual number of women, children, and men in
each class, we compute the expected number of survivors. We then compute
how that number varies from the actual number of survivors for that sex, age, and
This method shows that the expected overall survival rate for first class passengers was
44.68%, for second class 40.46%, for third class 36.32%, and for crew 21.38%. It also
shows that the actual survival rate was 39.80% higher than expectation for first class as a whole,
and 30.58% below expectation for third class as a whole.
The more primitive approach -- taken by most writers on this subject -- is to divide the first-class overall
survival rate (62.46%) by the overall average survival rate (31.97%), conclude that
first-class passengers were twice as likely to survive as the average passenger, and
attribute all this variance to class. The folly of this approach is obvious.