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Journal Article

"Dangerous fertile ages" for women: a universal medieval pattern? [AAPA Abstracts]

Weise, S., Boldsen, J. L.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132:S44, 246 (2007)

Keywords: Denmark, differential mortality, sex differentials

Abstract

For most ancient populations there is a clear difference between male and female mortality regimes. These patterns have changed noticeably over time. In ancient samples, women from their early twenties until the end of their fertile period usually showed higher mortality rates than men. Around age 50, male mortality started to exceed female mortality. Since the middle of the 18th century – at the latest – higher life expectancy for females can be observed universally, and was associated with lower female mortality for all age groups. This differential mortality between the sexes might be shaped by biological or cultural factors, such as higher female mortality due to childbirth or maternal depletion, women’s role in daily life or limited access to resources. On the basis of a skeletal sample from the late medieval cemetery S:t Jörgen (AD 1300 – 1530) in Malmö, Sweden, the change from an historical to a modern mortality regime can be recognized. The total collection comprises 4182 individuals. Only a subset (N=973) was analyzed, because they were aged by Transitional Analysis according to the “Rostock Manifesto”. The skeletons 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 early medieval Danish skeletal samples and early modern parish records from Scania shows that the late medieval period might be the turning point between the different mortality regimes in Scandinavia.

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