With hurricane season just kicking off, a new study has found hurricanes with female names are more deadly than ones with male names.
While the researchers don’t have any conclusive explanation about why hurricanes with female names are deadlier, and it could simply be a coincidence. However, the researchers wonder if people take hurricanes less seriously if they have a female name.
The World Meteorological Organization, based in Geneva, chooses hurricane names several years in advance, so storms are not named based on their severity at the time.
“Names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names,” said study lead author Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a statement provided by the university. “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.”
From the early 1950s until the late 1970s, hurricanes received only female names. The alternating male-female naming system was adopted in the late 1970s because of sociey’s increased awareness of sexism, the authors say.
Researchers analyzed death rates from 94 U.S. hurricanes between 1950 to 2012. They then put the masculinity and femininity of some storm names on a rating scale.
The study claimed that a masculine-named storm killed about 15 people, but a hurricane of the same strength with a female name killed about 42.
“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” says Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at Illinois and a co-author of the study, which appears in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent.”
“Individuals assess their vulnerability to hurricanes and take actions based not only on objective indicators of hurricane severity, but also on the gender of hurricanes,” according to the study. “This pattern may emerge because individuals systematically underestimate their vulnerability to hurricanes with more feminine names, avoiding or delaying protective measures.”
The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.