Sex Differentials in Frailty in Medieval England
By Sharon N. DeWitte
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Vol.143:2 (2010)
Abstract: In most modern populations, there are sex differentials in morbidity and mortality that favor women. This study addresses whether such female advantages existed to any appreciable degree in medieval Europe. The analyses presented here examine whether men and women with osteological stress markers faced the same risks of death in medieval London. The sample used for this study comes from the East Smithfield Black Death cemetery in London. The benefit of using this cemetery is that most, if not all, individuals interred in East Smithfield died from the same cause within a very short period of time. This allows for the analysis of the differences between men and women in the risks of mortality associated with osteological stress markers without the potential confounding effects of different causes of death. A sample of 299 adults (173 males, 126 females) from the East Smithfield cemetery was analyzed. The results indicate that the excess mortality associated with several osteological stress markers was higher for men than for women. This suggests that in this medieval population, previous physiological stress increased the risk of death for men during the Black Death to a greater extent than was true for women. Alternatively, the results might indicate that the Black Death discriminated less strongly between women with and without pre-existing health conditions than was true for men. These results are examined in light of previous analyses of East Smithfield and what is known about diet and sexually-mediated access to resources in medieval England.