Anything but the household? Famine, commercialization, and the female mortality advantage in the 17th Century Low Countries and Northern France

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationAcademic


During famines, ‘the evidence that females survive better than males is overwhelming’ – a ‘female mortality advantage’ – and many accept the biological explanation behind this. Two aspects to the FMA, however, have gone
less noticed. The first is that most empirical data for sex ratios in mortality we rely on are taken from the mid nineteenth century onwards. Secondly, sex differentials in famine mortality diverge from year to year and place to
place. Both points show that simple mathematical models of energy utilization alone is inadequate to explain major aspects of this phenomenon. Even if we accept the general validity of women’s ‘natural advantages’ during famines,
why were women’s survival chances so divergent across time and space? One likely reason is that the biological driver worked in tandem with social processes, yet few social factors have been formally tested as hypotheses, with
little consideration as to why women in some societies can employ ‘survival strategies’ and yet others cannot. This paper explores the connection between commercialization and the FMA during food crises, and whether access to
markets really aided women’s natural biological superiority in times of malnutrition, by offering opportunities to escape household-dominated food redistribution made unfavorable through household hierarchies.
Period12 Sep 2017
Event titleRural History 2017 Conference
Event typeConference
LocationLeuven, BelgiumShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational