Hurricanes with female names 'more deadly'

Hurricane Sandy, like Katrina, was not taken seriously enough by residents. Photo: Reuters

Hurricanes and storms with female names are more deadly due to people's innately gendered belief system, a new study is arguing.

Researchers at the University of Illinois said Atlantic hurricanes with the most feminine names have caused an estimated five times more deaths than those with masculine names.

The reason, they say, is that people unconsciously think a storm with a female name is less dangerous, meaning they are less likely to flee or take other necessary precautions, which therefore makes them more vulnerable to harm.

Looking at 94 Atlantic hurricanes from 1950 to 2012, the researchers found that names of less severe storms didn't matter. But for stronger hurricanes, the more feminine the name, the more deadly its trail.

The paper, published in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, warned of the dangerous consequences of such widely held gender stereotyping.

Feminine-named hurricanes cause significantly more deaths, apparently because they lead to lower perceived risk and consequently less preparedness.

We show that this practice also taps into well-developed and widely held gender stereotypes, with potentially deadly consequence

Co-author of the report, Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at Illinois, said the problem is that people apply their beliefs about how men and women behave when weighing up whether to evacuate.

This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent.

A spokesperson for the National Hurricane Centre would not comment on whether scientists find the analysis credible.