More Britons than Americans died on Titanic 'because they queued'

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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.

David 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 survive.

"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.)

Mr Savage said there were plenty of examples of gentlemanly conduct by British passengers and crew after the Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage in 1912.

The captain, Edward John Smith, shouted out: "Be British, boys, be British!" as the cruise liner went down, according to witnesses. One wealthy passenger, recognising he was doomed, donned a tuxedo and declared: "I'm going to go down well dressed."

More than 1,500 people died, the majority men, as women and children were taken off first. Women had a 51.7 per cent better chance of survival than men, according to Mr Savage's analysis, while women accompanied by children were 74 per cent better off.

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