Capital Briefs

Are female hurricanes deadlier?

University of Illinois researchers tracked the death tolls for every hurricane that hit U.S. soil between 1950 and 2012 and found that storms with female names had higher death tolls.

Apparently, these higher mortality rates are linked to gender-based expectations:

“The more feminine a storm name sounds, the less severe the public thinks the storm will be. (For this study, separate participants rated the femininity or masculinity of names without knowing they were for storms.) Indeed, when researchers asked people to imagine being in the path of hurricanes Alexandra, Christina, or Victoria, they rated the storm as less powerful and risky than those who were told to imagine hurricanes Alexander, Christopher, or Victor,” the National Journal’s Marina Koren wrote.

People in the paths of hurricanes take fewer precautions when anticipating one with a female name; their association with the woman’s name causes them to subconsciously believe the storm will be gentler.

However, the National Weather Service names hurricanes in a completely arbitrary fashion. It rotates six alphabetical lists of names each year that alternate between girls’ and boys’ names.

“Such gender biases are pervasive and implicit,” Madhu Viswanathan, a co-author of the study, said. “We found that people were affected by the gender of hurricane names regardless of whether they explicitly endorsed the idea that women and men have different traits. This appears to be a widespread phenomenon.”

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