Titanic: A Life-and-Death Class Struggle

A totally fascinating website has tracked details about the passengers aboard the RMS Titanic which sank 100 years ago.  One way they slice the data is survival by passenger class.  Using this tool, you can easily analyze the passenger lists and how survival varied by class and country of origin.

First, let’s look at the overall survival rate.  Out of 1,317 passengers, only 500 survived or 38%.

But that 38% survival rate was not evenly distributed among the three classes of passengers aboard Titanic.

There were 324 first-class passengers of which 198 survived for a survival rate of 61%.

All the names of the people who perished came from this class. John Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Thomas Andrews are but three of the victims who were wealthy and famous.

Second-class passengers did not fare as well as the first-class passengers.  Of the 280 second-class passengers, only 119 survived making for a 42% survival rate.

But the source of most victims was the ranks of the third-class passengers.  Of the 713 third-class passengers, only 183 survived, a 25% survival rate.  75% of the third-class passengers died.


Most of the non-Western European passengers were in third-class and most of them died.  Titanic represents a real, on-the-ground (on-the-water?) example of class warfare in action.


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15 thoughts on “Titanic: A Life-and-Death Class Struggle

  1. Here is another case of using the word “war” in a cavalier fashion to the point that it loses its meaning. The problem is that using hyperbole to editorialize when your country is at REAL war, and REAL people are dying FOR REAL and FOREVER, trivializing war is simply inexcusable.

    SHAME ON YOU, Phil Scarr!

    We’ve learned more about the Titanic disaster than we have any right to, through the sensationalism and ghoulish fascination of such tragedies. We know that like all major transportation disasters, that there was a complex cause. The fact that the cost of passage decreases as the distance from the deck increases played an obvious role in who lived and who died. BUT THAT IS NOT WARFARE!

    When aviation came along and replaced shipping for trans-oceanic travel, the 1st class passengers were placed up front and the steerage (now called “coach”) passengers near the tail of the plane. This resulted in a higher survival rate among the passengers in the cheap seats at the rear of the plane. The JAL Flight 123 (JA8119) crash is a good example of this, with the craft literally flying into the side of a mountain and all of the four survivors being in the rearmost, cheapest seats. While the JAL 123 crash has a complex cause, “class warfare” if absolutely NOT among the contributing factors!

    Sources include “Aviation Disasters” by David Gero, Editions 1-5, and other learned texts in my personal library.

    1. So is using the term “war” in the context of “class warfare” what you object to? Or is it the use of “class warfare” in the context of survival rates for Titanic passengers?

      In either case, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

      1. Phil, you’re not disagreeing with me. You’re disagreeing with a convenient straw man of your own making.

        I used to be amused about how Republicans strapped their fear goggles on and saw everything as a projection of themselves. I got lots of laughs reading the rants of people who just assumed that everybody was exactly like them, except either with them or against them. When they did the equivalent of a dog barking at a mirror, it was entertainment. The concept of a true polar opposite of a Republican was too absurd to entertain.

        But after seeing this truly pathetic use of inductive reasoning to distort a century-past shipwreck into ammunition for a NO YUO! gun has me seriously reconsidering.

  2. I’m afraid the class stratification in the early 1900s bears little resemblance today. Travellers today are treated fairly equal, though accomodations differ. Back then it was more like “royalty” vs. peasants and the attitudes of the service people reflected that.

    As far as disparity in deaths, the elite really were closer to the lifeboats. However, the 61% did little for people in the water. Our society today is a bit more egalitarian.

    1. Other Side, you have the bulk of it there. We must remember that this was a British ship, and the British do have a class system. But no matter what nation of origin, it’s traditional to have different levels of service aboard a sailing vessel. Because of the way that ships are built, that naturally places the less desirable, therefore less expensive accommodations lower in the ship’s hull.

      In the case of Titanic, one should be aware of the fact that 5 of the 7 passenger decks were available for First Class passengers. If the collision had occurred while the First Class passengers were down on the Saloon Deck, the fatality rate would have been much different.

      In the case of Titanic, most everybody believed that the ship was unsinkable. This belief was so strong that when the first lifeboats were lowered, they were nearly empty. The fact is that the people who had their chance to escape were certain that they were safer on the sinking ship than aboard a lifeboat. There’s no doubt that this hesitation was responsible for more passenger deaths than any other single cause.

      If this was a legal case, the White Star Line would certainly bear the brunt of the culpability, along with shipbuilders Harland and Wolff (which they did). But the insinuation that Titanic was designed to be an extermination machine is fantastical and demented.

      Let’s also pay attention to state of travel of the day. 100 years ago, sailing across the Atlantic between Europe and the Americas was a once-in-a-lifetime proposition for the immigrants who made up the Third Class rooms. Second Class passengers might travel more often. Only the First Class passengers had the money it took to travel frequently and opulently. So who’s more likely to find the Boat Deck? A seasoned veteran to the Atlantic crossing, or a first time passenger?

      Let’s look at two airline ditching incidents for example:

      The US Airways Flight 1549 (N106US) ditching a.k.a. “The Miracle on the Hudson” resulted in 5 serious injuries and 0 fatalities. “Cactus 1549”, as it is called over the radio was under the command of an experienced airline captain who happened to be an experienced glider pilot. Captain Sullenberger attributes his sailplane experience as contributing to the successful water landing. The cabin crew executed a flawless evacuation.

      In contrast, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 (ET-AIZ) was troubled by drunken hijackers who demanded to be flown to Australia, which was not possible without landing, which the hijackers did not allow. When the fuel ran out and nature made the final decision, many passengers who had survived the crash landing panicked and inflated their life vests while still inside the plane. This proved fatal to a large number of passengers whose actions left them trapped inside the fuselage, resulting in death by drowning. 50 survived, but if not for this terrible mass error, that number would have been more than double.

      Once more I’ll point out that I’ve been studying airliner crashes for decades, and have a LOT of accumulated knowledge on the subject. Although I keep Gero’s book handy, I’ve read every text on the subject that I could get my hands on. So I’m skipping a full list of references, and pointing out that complex events have complex causes and therefore no truth can be gleaned from simplistic, weak inductive reasoning.

      Finally, please take note that the number of the crew is larger than the number of “survivors”. In other words, whoever made those pie charts put the ship’s crew, from Captain Smith down to the most junior fireman in the “don’t matter” category. That is bigotry in action, folks.

  3. The sex divide is far starker than the class divide.

    A greater percentage of third-class (steerage) women survived than first class men. Just under half of the third-class women survived (49 percent) compared to 34 percent of first class males.

    Survival rates – women (75%), children (50%), men (19%)

    1. The consensus of the survivors was that the “women and children first” rule was adhered to for the most part. I suspect that the difference in the survival rate of children and women can be accounted by the children’s greater susceptibility to exposure. The ratio between surface area and total mass is less favorable the smaller the person.

  4. @MM: I’d have filled in the blanks more but smartphone keyboards are difficult to navigate for older folks like me. You did admirably well. Thanks for your comment.

    1. I can empathize, Other Side. I just got my first smart phone and have given up on using the touch-screen keyboard.

      Thank you for starting a reasonable thread about this topic!

  5. @Dubcik,

    I heard on the radio yesterday that the usual statistics for survival of sinking ships favors men over women and children. This makes some sense as men are stronger and more women may be involved with watching out for children. It was suggested that the captain threatened to shoot any man who would not give up his seat in a life boat to a woman or child. I don’t know if this is true.

    1. Linda, the scene in James Cameron’s fictional movie “Titanic” that you’re referring to had some basis in reality in that the survivors reported that pistols were issued to the ship’s officers. However there’s no non-fictional mention of people being shot IIRC. The same survivor accounts had Captain Smith largely out of the picture. The journey was supposed to be a topping end to a brilliant career, but in an instant his fine reputation turned to dust. So it’s understandable that Smith was too stunned to function, and therefore wasn’t giving any orders by then.

      I can see how strength in general, and upper body strength in particular, along with being free of encumbrances like children would give fit men the edge in general. But in the case of Titanic, the water temperature, 28°F, was low enough to cause instant death by cardiac arrest for the men, who would have to swim due to lack of lifeboat capacity. (Some men were allowed to crew the lifeboats.) Those who didn’t die with first contact died from exposure long before the Carpathia arrived.

      There’s still no definitive explanation as to why Californian failed to respond in time to save many more lives. Many know about the radio kerfuffle, but few realize that Californian was so close to Titanic that they were in visual contact during the entire incident, from before the collision to after the sinking. Clearly Captain Lord acted in gross negligence by not aiding the sinking Titanic.

      A similar radio collision contributed to the Tenerife disaster at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife Island, one of the Canary islands. This resulted in the collisions of two B747 aircraft, resulting in the largest loss of human life to an aviation accident ever with 583 fatalities and only 61 survivors.

      Again, credit to David Gero’s “Aviation Disasters” and other texts.

  6. Wow – based on the initial post, I never would’ve guessed I’d find such an interesting, insightful & educational discussion.


  7. From Wikipedia:
    “Ship’s regulations were designed to keep third class passengers confined to their section of the ship. The Titanic was fitted with grilles to prevent the classes from mingling and these gates were normally kept closed, although the stewards could open them in the event of an emergency. In the rush following the collision, the stewards, occupied with waking up sleeping passengers and leading groups of women and children to the boat deck, did not have time to open all the gates, leaving many of the confused third class passengers stuck below decks”

    heh heh

    Kinda like the Wall Street Bailout– executives of a bankrupt Goldman Sachs divided up a $16 Billion bonus pool handed to
    them out the back door of the US Treasury while the common homeowner is thrown out on the street as his home is seized in foreclosure with no
    help from the government whatsoever. Two people here in Philadelphia committed suicide after losing their homes — the US suicide rate is up.
    But the prostitutes in our News Media don’t seem to notice and it is all just too complicated for poor Republicans to understand.

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