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Graph of female empowerment and mortality ratio

Patriarchy and male-female mortality differences

4/16/2014 feature story

This article, by Daniel Kruger and colleagues, presents an analysis of how levels of social patriarchy affect male:female mortality ratios. They find that women's social and economic empowerment has a strong inverse relationship with excess male mortality risk.

More Information.

Daniel J. Kruger

Publication Information:

Kruger, Daniel J., Maryanne Fisher, and Paula Wright. 2014. "Patriarchy, male competition, and excess male mortality." Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 8(1): 3-11.

Studies of patriarchy typically focus on women's subordination to men and the detrimental consequences for females. In this study, however, the authors predict that greater social empowerment of women will be associated with smaller mortality differences between women and men, which may seem counterintuitive from a nonevolutionary perspective. In other words, they predict that higher levels of societal patriarchy will be associated with greater levels of excess male mortality. They propose that the degree of patriarchy reflects both the extent of male control of females as reproductive assets, as well as the degree of male competition for positions of high status and power that have historically conferred disproportionate reproductive benefits. The intensity of this male competition directly predicts the extent to which male mortality rates exceed female mortality rates. The authors examined national level sociodemographic and mortality data from the WHO Mortality Database, United Nations, CIA World Factbook, and the Encyclopedia of World Cultures. They found that across nations, women's social and economic empowerment had a strong inverse relationship with the disparity between male and female mortality from both external (direct behavioral) and (behaviorally mediated) internal causes, even when accounting for general economic inequality and the prevalence of polygyny. This study demonstrates the usefulness of an evolutionary framework for explaining contemporary social phenomena and important public health issues.

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