’What do you do for a living?’ - Sex-specific mortality in historical times

Svenja Weise, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

For most ancient populations there is a clear difference between male and female mortality regimes. Mortality data derived from human skeletons and Early Modern register data can help to reconstruct these sex-specific survival patterns. The observed differential mortality between the sexes might be shaped by a combination of biological and cultural factors. Therefore, the shape of sex-specific mortality might be influenced by the level of social and economic development of a community. To test this hypothesis, mortality patterns are contrasted for populations with different subsistence forms: horticulture and foraging, partly market integrated agriculture and urban (fully) market integrated agriculture. On the basis of three communities from different time periods in southern Scandinavia, the change from an historical to a modern mortality regime can be recognized. The skeletons from the late medieval sample show no significant difference between male and female survival for all age groups. The Male/Female Mortality Ratio (M/F MR) is 1.03 for the ages 20 to 40 and 1.00 for the ages 40+. The comparison with the M/F MR for an early medieval Danish skeletal sample and Early Modern life tables from Sweden shows that the late medieval period might be the turning point between the different mortality regimes. There is an epidemiological transition in young adult mortality patterns during the Middle Ages and Early Modern history: from an increased female mortality during the reproductive years through a period of nearly equal risk of dying for both sexes to a surplus mortality of young males. This transition runs parallel to the important changes in subsistence patterns between the analyzed communities: from horticulture and foraging to an urban life and fully market integrated agriculture. The data analyzed here support the hypothesis that the level of social and economic development of a community influences the shape of sex-specific mortality.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Session 29: Evolutionary- and Bio-Demography