Environment Magazine

Do Gender Stereotypes Create Deadlier Hurricanes?

Posted on the 18 July 2014 by Earth First! Newswire @efjournal

by the Center for Biological Diversity


Hurricanes are extremely violent weather events that — according to an extraordinary new report — are made even more deadly by sexism. A team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, using archival data, recently discovered that tropical cyclones with female names have historically killed more people than storms with male names.

The naming process occurs before any given storm’s formation, and therefore does not reflect a storm’s severity; names are simply given to make communication about the storm easier, and alternate between male and female as new storms form. But, as the new study argues, subconscious sexism lurks behind a cyclone’s nom de guerre. Relying on social biases fixed to gender, some prospective storm victims may be subconsciously perceiving that hurricanes bestowed with female names will be weaker — and therefore taking fewer precautions. “Changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley to Eloise could nearly triple its death toll,” says the study.

To uncover how sexism influences human behavior toward storms, the team of behavioral scientists provided nearly 1,000 test subjects with a list of hurricane names and asked them to guess the storms’ severity. A majority concluded that the male storms would be more intense. They were then asked to read several scenarios with more details about an incoming storm. Though the descriptions described nearly identical storm situations, the subjects were more likely to say they would evacuate their homes for Hurricane Christopher than for Hurricane Christina.

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