Hurricanes with female names are likely to cause more deaths than hurricanes with masculine names, according to University of Illinois researchers.
An analysis of more than six decades of death rates from US hurricanes shows that severe storms with a more feminine name result in a greater death toll
The researchers say a storm with a feminine name is seen as less foreboding than one with a more masculine name.
As a result, people in the path of these severe storms take fewer protective measures, leaving them more vulnerable to harm.
“The problem is that a hurricane’s name has nothing to do with its severity,” said Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing and the lead author on the study.
“Names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names. If people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm’s name, then this is potentially very dangerous.”
The research, published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), examined actual hurricane fatalities for all storms which made landfall in the US from 1950 to 2012, excluding Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Audrey (1957) because they were deadlier than the typical storm.
For highly damaging storms, the more feminine the storm’s name, the more people it killed. The team’s analysis suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from the masculine “Charley” to the feminine “Eloise” could nearly triple its death toll.
“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” said Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at Illinois and a co-author of the report.
“This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent.”
The names of this year’s storms, alternating between male and female names, will start with Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal and Dolly.
Hurricanes kill more than 200 people in the US each year, and severe hurricanes are capable of producing casualties in the thousands, according to the paper.
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