Why Men are More Likely to be Killed by Lightning (on the Job)

31 Jul, 2013 Bob Wilson


I really have no directly citable evidence that more men than women are killed by lightning while on the job; rather I have a correlated argument for that assertion. As a bonus, I think I know why that is the case.

A study just released shows that an overwhelming percentage of US lightning strike deaths are male, with a ratio of 6 to 1 over female strike deaths. The Centers for Disease Control found that from 1968 through 2010, 85 percent of the Americans killed by lightning were male and 15 percent were female. That means American males were 5.66 times more likely to be killed by lightning than American females.

This is despite the fact that during the same period, the annual number of Americans killed by lightning was on a downward trend, with “the annual number of men being killed declining 78.6 percent and the annual number of women being killed declining 70.6 percent.”

A separate study, looking at work-related lightning deaths from 1995 – 2002, tells us that 129 people were killed by lightning while working. That study, originally published in the Journal of Environmental Health and available for download in the attachment area to the right, tells us the age of these victims (67% between 20-44yrs), their race (58% white), their occupation, location, industry and state of injury. It fails, however, to identify their gender.

Hence, I am forced to conduct extensive logical reasoning that says, “If men die at a far greater rate than women from lightning strikes across the population, then more men are killed on the job by lightning strikes as well”.

Whew. I'm exhausted.

A greater question left unanswered by both surveys is why men die at a much greater rate from this phenomenon. The JEH study offers some delightful case reports from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, which mostly seem to discuss the perils of sheep herding and herders found with dead animals in close proximity. We could extrapolate that sheep herding is then the primary cause of male lightning deaths in the nation, but while that would explain the lower rate of female deaths, it would nevertheless be difficult to quantify.

Another reason could simply be that men are taller than women, and create an easier target for the static charge that ultimately finds them. This explanation would also gain credibility if chivalry was still the norm, and it was fashionable for men to held umbrellas for women. This conceivably could allow the woman to stay safe and dry, while her taller male partner holding the metal umbrella played the role of human lightning rod.

Alas, chivalry is a dead bastard, so we know that this cannot be the reason, either.

Not to worry, as I believe I know the real reason that men die from lightning at a rate almost 6 times their female counterparts.

Women are smart enough to go inside, while men are too stupid to come in out of the rain. Either that, or there is really something very weird going on out in the herd.


Update: This article resulted in a follow up post written in response to information provided by NOAA regarding lightning deaths on the job. Bob's "Part II" article is located here.

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