WASHINGTON (CBS Tampa) – People don’t take hurricanes with female names as seriously as storms with male names, reports the Washington Post, and that can have deadly consequences, says a new study.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University looked at six decades worth of data on hurricane death rates. They excluded Katrina and Audrey because those were devastating storms that would skew the computer models.

Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, they found an average of 45 deaths when the storm had a feminine name verses 32 deaths in storms with masculine names.

“(C)hanging a severe hurricane’s name from Charley to Eloise could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.

Sharon Shavitt, study co-author and professor of marketing at the University of Illinois, says the results imply an “implicit sexism.”

“When under the radar, that’s when (sexism) has the potential to influence our judgments,” She added.

In other words, people in the path of a storm may unconsciously decide not to evacuate when the storm is given a very feminine name.

The researchers tested this hypothesis by asking a series of questions to between 100 and 346 people in six experiments.

The respondents were asked to predict how intense a storm would be based on its name. In another trial, they were asked to rate how they would prepare for a storm based upon its name.

The researchers found latent sexism creeping in. “People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” Shavitt said. “The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women, they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”

Forecasters have been naming tropical storms and hurricanes since 1950. At first they only used female names, but started adding male names into the mix in 1979.

The study suggests that forecasters might want to consider giving storms the most masculine, scary names they can find. The storm, of course, doesn’t care what it’s called.

The National Hurricane Center emphasizes that people should focus on storm hazards, not names.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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