The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sexist lightning?: 8 out of 10 killed are men

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Researchers said male-named hurricanes killed more than female. That research may not stand up to scrutiny.

But a natural hazard in which gender unmistakably plays a role in its riskiness is lightning.

From 2006-2013, 81 percent of lightning death victims were men.  Males have comprised all seven of the lightning deaths thus far in 2014.

To state the obvious, men don’t physically attract lightning more than women.  There’s no special synergy between the male body and a 300 million volt discharge of electricity.

Rather, men place themselves at greater risk through their behavior.

For example, men tend to preferentially participate in activities which expose them to these dangerous jolts. Consider that fishing was the outdoor leisure activity in which the most lightning deaths occurred between 2006 and 2013, followed by camping and boating. About two-thirds of those taking fishing outings in 2012 were men, according to the Special Report on Fishing and Boating 2013.

Also, in a recent study on lightning risk,  NOAA lightning expert John Jensenius suggested men may not be as well educated about lightning or take it as seriously.

“Possible explanations for this [gender disparity] finding are that males are unaware of all the dangers associated with lightning, are more likely to be in vulnerable situations, are unwilling to be inconvenienced by the threat of lightning, are in situations that make it difficult to get to a safe place in a timely manner, don’t react quickly to the lightning threat, or any combination of these explanations,” Jensenius wrote.

While men are more prone to being struck than women, the number of lightning-related fatalities for both sexes have declined markedly over time due to better education  and storm warnings.

An average of 323 people per year died from lightning from 1940-1949. Between 2006 and 2013, the average number of lightning deaths was 32.

For related reading,  see John Metcalfe’s piece: Every American Killed by Lightning So Far in 2014 Has Been Male (Atlantic City Lab)