World Facts

Did You Know That Hurricanes With Female Names Kill More People Than Male-Named Ones?

Research has attributed this to the fact that society apparently doesn't respect and fear the power of female-named storms as much as male-named ones.

Can How We Perceive Gender Roles in Society Affect Casualty Rates?

From the times of our childhoods, greater human society influences our perception of the world around us. To a certain extent, our roles in life are often defined by those deemed "typical" of our biological sex. These gender roles are based on standards set by our society. Traditionally, we perceive men with the traits of aggression, strength, and dominance, while women are associated with softness, nurturing abilities, and passivity. Thus, we have also developed separate classes of names for males and females. Often, we also tend to name inanimate objects or phenomena around us, assigning them a masculine or feminine names. Below, we look at a very interesting question related to this masculine-feminine naming concept. Does such naming affect our perception of such objects on the basis of an assigned gender? More specifically, can naming a hurricane either Christopher or Christina affect our reaction to the same hurricane?

Can a Hurricane’s Name Influence our Preparedness for a Disaster?

Kiju Jung from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and his team of researchers and collaborators have put forward interesting results on this very topic. Their findings have come as a result of an investigation associating names of hurricanes to death tolls from the same hurricanes. According to Jung, a hurricane with a feminine name typically claims more lives than one with a "male" one. This, he believes, is due to the stereotyping of men with more aggressive traits, and females with warmth and kindness. According to the researchers, this social bias can have disastrous consequences on many aspects of life on the planet. The naming of hurricanes with a male name like Charlie could influence people to believe that the storm has a greater force and destructive ability than a hurricane with a female name like Eloise. People may thus make more extensive arrangements to ensure their safety in the face of Charlie than for Eloise, completely neglecting scientific rational, and going on to underestimate a hurricane’s destructive power due to its female nominal association. Jung claims that a small change in the name of a hurricane from a masculine to a feminine could lead to a tripling of the death toll. Jung’s research was based on results obtained by looking at data collected from the aftermath of 94 hurricanes hitting the U.S.A. between 1950 and 2012. The researchers asked 9 people to rate hurricanes based on a scale of 1(very masculine) to 11 (very feminine), and found that the hurricanes with a more feminine name were associated with more death and damage than those with more masculine names. Also, in a separate set of experiments, volunteers identified hurricanes with masculine names with more risk than ones with feminine names, despite the fact that "female" hurricanes incurred much larger death tolls.

Arguments Against the Theory

Several arguments have been put forth against this and prior research conclusion. Critics claim that since the hurricanes prior to 1979 were only assigned female names exclusively, and it was only after 1979 that alternate male and female names have been assigned to hurricanes, that the data is more likely to be biased. Also, since hurricanes have become less deadlier over the years due to better infrastructure and preparedness measures, the higher death tolls of the female-named hurricanes prior to 1979 could also influence the results. The fact that the researchers have taken indirect deaths, such as those resulting from fallen electrical lines during an after-storm clean up activity into account, such casualties cannot be explained on the basis of lack of preparedness for the hurricane. Damage to property like buildings with constructional anomalies also cannot be accounted for by the influence of gender names. Besides, there are also many other factors like social situations, cultural norms in storm readiness, and prior experiences with tropical weather that can affect a society's perception of an approaching hurricane, and there needs to be more substantial proof that the naming of a storm alone has the greatest impact on people’s decisions regarding the storm’s potential impact.

Ongoing Research

Future research needs to go more deeply into the heart of this issue. More thorough and extensive investigations need to be done before a conclusive decision can be reached about reconsidering our present hurricane naming system on the basis of gender. It is quite important that this happens quickly as, if Jung’s research is true in the practical scenario, this means that some serious thought needs to put into the naming of hurricanes and other natural disasters. It might be that feminine names will have to be discarded altogether. This could potentially save more lives claimed by the hurricanes , tornadoes, and typhoons that strike different parts of our world. Who knows? Perhaps even naming the prospectively worst storms after well-known destructive people (such as Ivan the Terrible, Caligula, Genghis Khan, and Adolf Hitler) could prove beneficial.

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