Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Famine and the female mortality advantage: sex, gender and mortality in northwest England, c. 1590–1630

  • JONATHAN HEALEY (a1)

Abstract

Studies of modern famines have found disproportionately high mortality amongst adult men. The most commonly suggested root of this ‘female mortality advantage’ is biological, and it seems to be strongest when starvation is the main cause of death. The present study is the first to investigate the phenomenon in an early-modern society. Looking at the famines of 1597 and 1623 in northwest England, it finds some evidence for a female mortality advantage in 1623, but that this was concentrated in the first 12 months of the crisis (after the 1622 harvest). The female advantage was also much greater in north Lancashire and Westmorland than it was in the wealthier western Lancashire plain. Together this supports the idea that there was actual starvation during the 1623 crisis, at least in these areas at these times. There are, however, some reasons to suppose that the most mortal phase of the crisis, around the winter of 1623–1624, took place at a time when food was becoming more widely available, and hence should be attributed to diseases that followed the famine.

Copyright

Corresponding author

References

Hide All

ENDNOTES

1 For a succinct summary of extant literature, see: K. Macintyre, ‘Famine and the female mortality advantage’, in T. Dyson and C. Ó Gráda eds., Famine demography: perspectives from the past and present (Oxford, 2002), 240–59; also C. Ó Gráda, Famine: a short history (Oxford, 2009), 98–105; Razzaque, A., ‘Socio-demographic differentials in mortality during the 1974–5 famine in a rural area of Bangladesh’, Journal of Biosocial Science 21, 1 (1989), 1322; de Waal, A., ‘Famine mortality: a case study of Darfur, Sudan, 1984–5’, Population Studies 43, 1 (1989), 524, here 13.

2 Valaoras, V. G., ‘Some effects of famine on the population of Greece’, Millbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 24 (1946), 215–34; Henry, C. J. K., ‘Body mass index and the limits to human survival’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 44, 4 (1990), 329–35; Lumey, L. H. and van Poppel, F. W. A., ‘The Dutch famine of 1944–45: mortality and morbidity in past and present generations’, Social History of Medicine 7, 2 (1994), 229–46; Hionidou, V., ‘The demography of a Greek famine: Mykonos, 1941–1942’, Continuity and Change 10, 2 (1995), 279–99; V. Hionidou, ‘“Send us food or coffins”: the 1941–2 famine on the Aegean island of Syros’, in Dyson and Ó Gráda, Famine demography, 181–203; Ó Gráda, Famine, 100; also S. Adamets, ‘Famine in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russia: mortality by age, cause, and gender’, in Dyson and Ó Gráda, Famine demography, 158–80. Adamets found no female advantage in 1892, a strong one in 1933, and a smaller one in 1947, concluding that ‘excess male mortality is likely to manifest itself most during intense crises’, here 174.

3 Dyson, T., ‘On the demography of South Asian famines, part I’, Population Studies 45, 1 (1991), 525; Dyson, T., ‘On the demography of South Asian famines, part II’, Population Studies 45, 2 (1991), 279–97.

4 Quoted in Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 254–5.

5 Boyle, P. B. and Gráda, C. Ó, ‘Fertility trends, excess mortality and the Great Irish Famine’, Demography 23 (1986), 543–62; Pitkänen, K. J. and Mielke, J. H., ‘Age and sex differentials in mortality during two nineteenth century population crises’, European Journal of Population 9, 1 (1993), 132; D. Fitzpatrick, ‘Women and the Great Famine’, in M. Kelleher and J. H. Murphy eds., Gender perspectives in nineteenth-century Ireland: public and private spheres (Dublin, 1997), 50–69; K. J. Pitkänen, ‘Famine mortality in nineteenth century Finland: is there a sex bias?’, in Dyson and Ó Gráda, Famine demography, 65–92.

6 Jannetta, A. B., ‘Famine mortality in nineteenth-century Japan: the evidence from a temple death register’, Population Studies 46, 3 (1992), 427–43.

7 Ó Gráda, Famine, 100.

8 Classically, of course, A. Sen, Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation (Oxford, 1981).

9 Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 247–54.

10 Pitkänen and Mielke, ‘Age and sex differentials’, 24–6; Dyson, ‘On the demography of South Asian famines, part II’, 294.

11 Hionidou, ‘Demography of a Greek famine’; Hionidou, ‘“Send us food or coffins”’.

12 Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 250.

13 Boyle and Ó Gráda, ‘Fertility trends’, 553–4; Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 252.

14 Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 248–9.

15 Rivers, J. P. W., ‘Women and children last: an essay on sex discrimination in disasters’, Disasters 6 (1982), 256–67; Henry, ‘Body mass index’.

16 Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 251–2.

17 Ó Gráda, Famine, 101.

18 A. B. Appleby, Famine in Tudor and Stuart England (Liverpool, 1978); P. Laslett, The world we have lost – further explored (London, 1983), 122–52; J. Walter and R. S. Schofield, ‘Famine, disease and crisis mortality in early modern society’, in J. Walter and R. S. Schofield eds., Famine, disease and the social order (Cambridge, 1989), 1–73; Hoyle, R. W., ‘Famine as agricultural catastrophe: the crisis of 1622–4 in east Lancashire’, Economic History Review 63, 4 (2010), 9741002.

19 Walter and Schofield, ‘Famine, disease and crisis mortality’, 34–7, 41–57.

20 The present article distinguishes between ‘dearth’, i.e. high food prices, and ‘famine’: a period of high mortality due to high food prices.

21 K. J. Cullen, Famine in Scotland: the ‘ill years’ of the 1690s (Edinburgh, 2010), 10–30.

22 E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The population history of England, 1541–1871: a reconstruction (London, 1981), 670–72; R. B. Outhwaite, ‘Dearth, the English crown, and the “crisis of the 1590s”’, in P. Clark ed., The European crisis of the 1590s: essays in comparative history (London, 1985), 23–43.

23 Appleby, Famine, 109–21, 133–45.

24 Appleby, Famine, 125–32, 145–54; Hoyle, ‘Famine’.

25 C. D. Rogers, The Lancashire population crisis of 1623 (Manchester, 1975), 10.

26 Scott, S. and Duncan, C. J., ‘The mortality crisis of 1623 in north-west England’, Local Population Studies 58 (1997), 1425.

27 Rogers, Lancashire population crisis, 13.

28 For examples of these ‘famine foods’: J. Thirsk and J. P. Cooper eds., Seventeenth-century economic documents (Oxford, 1972), 24; K. Thomas, Man and the natural world: changing attitudes in England, 1500–1800 (Harmondsworth, 1991), 55.

29 M. Livi-Bacci, Population and nutrition: an essay on European demographic history (Cambridge, 1991), 47–50; see also Ó Gráda, Famine, 108–21.

30 Laslett, World we have lost, 130–48.

31 Rogers, Lancashire population crisis, 26–7.

32 Howson, W. G., ‘Plague, poverty and population in parts of north-west England, 1580–1720’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 112 (1961), 33. Howson also noted the evidence of starvation in Cumberland. On plague: P. Slack, The impact of plague in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1985).

33 C. Creighton, History of epidemics in Britain (2 vols.) (Cambridge, 1891–4), II, 258; France, R. S., ‘A history of plague in Lancashire’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 90 (1938), 51.

34 James, M., ‘The Lancashire population crisis of 1623 – further comment’, Local Population Studies 37 (1986), 53–4.

35 J. C. Cox, The parish registers of England (London, 1910).

36 The registers used are: H. Brierley ed., The parish registers of the church of Altham in the county of Lancaster, 1596–1695 (Lancashire Parish Register Society [hereafter LPRS], 36, Cambridge, 1909); H. Brierley ed., The parish registers of Ashton-under-Lyne, 1594–1720 (LPRS, 65, Preston, 1927–8); H. Brierley ed., The registers of the parish church of Blackburn in the county of Lancaster, 1600–1660 (LPRS, 41, Cambridge, 1911); A. Sparke ed., The registers of the parish church of Bolton, 1573–1660 (LPRS, 50, Bolton, 1913); W. Farrer ed., The registers of the parish church of Burnley in the county of Lancaster (LPRS, 2, Rochdale, 1899); H. Brierley and W. J. Löwenberg eds., The registers of the parish church of Bury, 1590–1646 (LPRS, 1, 10, Rochdale, 1898–1900); H. Brierley ed., The registers of the parish church of Cartmel in the county of Lancaster, 1559–1661 (LPRS, 28, Rochdale, 1907); H. Brierley ed., The registers of Caton, 1585–1718 (LPRS, 59, Preston, 1922); E. McKnight and H. Brierley eds., The registers of the parish church of Chorley in the county of Lancaster, 1548–1653 (LPRS, 38, Cambridge, 1910); Lancashire Parish Register Society eds., The registers of the parish church of Cockerham in the county of Lancaster, 1595–1657 (LPRS, 21, Cambridge, 1904); T. B. Ecroyd ed., The registers of the parish church of Colne in the county of Lancaster, 1599–1653 (LPRS, 17, Rochdale, 1904); A. E. Hodder ed., The registers of the parish church of Eccles in the county of Lancaster, 1564–1632 (LPRS, 25, Rochdale, 1906); H. S. Cowper ed., The oldest register book of the parish of Hawkshead in Lancashire, 1568–1704 (London, 1897); H. Brierley and R. N. Brierley eds., The registers of Kendal, Westmorland (Kendal, 1921–52); H. Brierley ed., The registers of the parish church of Lancaster, 1599–1690 (LPRS, 32, Cambridge, 1908); E. Axon and H. Brierley eds., The registers of the cathedral church of Manchester, 1573–1655 (LPRS, 31, 55, 56, Cambridge, 1908–16); H. Brierley ed., The parish registers of North Meols, 1594–1731 (LPRS, 66, Preston, 1929); J. Arrowsmith and T. Williams eds., The registers of the parish church of Ormskirk in the county of Lancaster, 1557–1678 (LPRS, 13, 98, Rochdale, 1902–1960); W. E. Robinson ed., The registers of the parish church of Poulton-le-Fylde in the county of Lancaster, 1591–1677 (LPRS, 19, Wigan, 1904); F. V. Driffield ed., The parish register of Prescot, 1573–1631 (LPRS, 76, Preston, 1938); J. Croston ed., The register book of christenings, weddings, and burials within the parish of Prestbury, 1560–1636 (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 5, Manchester, 1881); A. E. Hodder ed., The registers of the parish church of Preston, Lancashire, 1611–35 (LPRS, 48, Wigan, 1913); H. Brierley ed., The registers of the parish church of Standish in the county of Lancaster, 1560–1653 (LPRS, 46, Cambridge, 1912); H. Brierley ed., The registers of the parish church of Prestwich, 1603–1688 (LPRS, 34, Cambridge, 1909); J. Clayton ed., The registers of the parish church of Radcliffe, 1557–1783 (LPRS, 60, 61, Cambridge, 1922–23); J. Arrowsmith ed., The registers of the parish church of Ribchester in the county of Lancaster, 1598–1694 (LPRS, 26, Wigan, 1906); Cumbria Record Office (Kendal Branch), WPR 62/1/1/1-2, Troutbeck Chapelry Register, 1579–1629, 1633–61; G. E. C. Clayton ed., The registers of the parish of Walton-le-Dale in the county of Lancaster, 1609–1812 (LPRS, 37, Wigan, 1910); A. Sparke ed., The parish registers of Warrington, 1591–1653 (LPRS, 70, Preston, 1933); T. B. Ecroyd ed., The registers of the parish church of Whalley in the county of Lancaster, 1538–1653 (LPRS, 7, 74, Preston, 1900–1936); W. H. Chippendall ed., The parish registers of Warton, 1568–1812 (LPRS, 73, Preston, 1935); Lancashire Parish Register Society eds., The registers of the parish church of Wigan in the county of Lancaster (LPRS, 4, 152, Wigan and Preston, 1899–2001); R. Dickinson and F. Dickinson eds., The register of Winwick parish church (LPRS, 109, 113, Preston, 1970–74).

37 Sex was determined either by name, or by the description of someone as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ in the records.

38 Obviously one additional test could be to compare the crisis with the period afterwards. This would be an interesting exercise; however, there would always be the possibility that findings would be skewed by the ‘shadow’ effect of the crisis. Thus, given the extremely time-consuming nature of the data compilation, this was not attempted.

39 For an attempt to do this on a parochial scale using family reconstitution: Scott and Duncan, ‘Mortality crisis of 1623’.

40 D. E. C. Eversley, ‘Exploitation of Anglican parish registers by aggregative analysis’, in E. A. Wrigley ed., An introduction to English historical demography from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century (London, 1966), 71.

41 Gritt, A. J., ‘The “survival” of service in the English agricultural labour force: lessons from Lancashire, c. 1650–1851’, Agricultural History Review 50, 1 (2002), 2550.

42 An analysis of patterns in the seven parishes with ‘child’ proportions below 35 per cent found that these outliers suggested similar patterns to the rest of the sample, although at much lower levels of statistical significance. The only tested p value below 0.10 related to a swing towards female mortality advantage amongst adults during the 1622–1623 harvest year (p = 0.07).

43 The following is based on: C. M. L. Bouch and G. P. Jones, A short economic and social history of the Lake Counties, 1500–1830 (Manchester, 1961), 63–145; J. K. Walton, Lancashire: a social history, 1558–1939 (Manchester, 1987), 7–35; C. B. Phillips and J. H. Smith, Lancashire and Cheshire from AD 1540 (London, 1994), 5–54.

44 J. K. Walton, ‘Proto-industrialization and the First Industrial Revolution: the case of Lancashire’, in P. Hudson ed., Regions and industries: a perspective on the Industrial Revolution in Britain (Cambridge, 1989), 41–68.

45 Appleby, Famine, 17–94.

46 G. N. Tupling, The economic history of Rossendale (Manchester, 1927), 42–97; J. T. Swain, Industry before the Industrial Revolution: north-east Lancashire, c. 1500–1640 (Manchester, 1986).

47 Healey, J., ‘Land, population and famine in the English uplands: a Westmorland case study, c. 1370–1650’, Agricultural History Review 59, 2 (2011), 151–75. Here 172–4.

48 Phillips and Smith, Lancashire and Cheshire, 7–9.

49 Laslett, World we have lost, 133; there was almost certainly a major mortality crisis in the North-West in the late 1550s: Moore, J. S., ‘Population trends in Lancashire, 1548–1563’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 157 (2009), 3355.

50 Appleby, Famine, 95–108.

51 Phelps-Brown, E. H. and Hopkins, S. V., ‘Seven centuries of the price of consumables, compared with builders' wage-rates’, Economica 23, 92 (1956), 296314, here 302.

52 These and successive food price data are taken from Bowden, P., ‘Statistical appendix’, in Thirsk, J. ed., The agrarian history of England and Wales, V(ii) (1985), 827902; Appleby, Famine, 132–45.

53 Appleby, Famine, 110–12, 133–45; H. Kamen, European society, 1500–1700 (London, 1994), 34.

54 Willan, T. S., ‘Plague in perspective: the case of Manchester in 1605’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 132 (1983), 2940.

55 Wrigley and Schofield, Population history, 675–7; Appleby, Famine, 120–25.

56 R. Romano, ‘Between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries: the economic crisis of 1619–22’, in G. Parker and L. M. Smith eds., The general crisis of the seventeenth century, 2nd edn. (London, 1997), 153–205.

57 Hoyle, ‘Famine’.

58 Rogers, Lancashire population crisis.

59 These are calculated from baptism rates, using the figures in Wrigley and Schofield, Population history, 528.

60 Obviously these regions are, to a point, arbitrary, but after careful consideration it was felt that other plausible ways would have been even more problematic. Categorising by population size would end up largely reflecting the size of parishes rather than density, though another study might use calculated population density to interesting effect. Height above sea level, another important variable, was decided against because of the complex topography of the region, with some registers, such as Kendal, Troutbeck or Blackburn covering areas of considerable topographical variety, and with large areas of land given over to upland fell and moor, but with most of the population clustered in the lower-lying valley bottoms. Similarly, proximity to transport routes was also decided against because of the large size of the parishes under study and the distortion this would cause. Overall, although other methods would have been interesting – and some of them may also have been valid – a simpler approach based on the economic geography of the region was chosen. There is a useful introduction to Lancashire's economic history and geography in J. G. Timmins, Made in Lancashire: a history of regional industrialisation (Manchester, 1998), 11–82.

61 See Macintyre, ‘Female mortality advantage’, 247.

62 It is worth pointing out that, were we to include those parishes with unusually low recorded child proportions, the south/southeast region would see a swing of +3.1 percentage points (p = 0.027) for the whole crisis, and +4.2 percentage points (p = 0.013) for the early crisis.

63 Slack, P., ‘Vagrants and vagrancy in England, 1598–1664’, Economic History Review 27 (1974), 360–79.

64 Healey, J., ‘The development of poor relief in Lancashire, c. 1598–1680’, Historical Journal 53 (2010), 551–72.

65 The National Archives, State Papers, SP 16/388/7, Poor Law Returns for Kendal Ward, 1638.

66 Manchester parish, for example, ordered a general rate in the immediate aftermath of the famine: Lancashire Record Office, QSR/21, Quarter Sessions Roll, 1624.

67 Laslett, World we have lost, 130.

68 Hoyle, ‘Famine’, 978, 999–1000.

69 Hoyle, ‘Famine’, 1000. Emphasis added.

70 Bowden, ‘Statistical appendix’, 821.

71 J. R. Dasent ed., Acts of the Privy Council of England (46 vols.) (London, 1890–1964), XXXVIII, 394, 424, 434, 454; Ibid., XXXIX, 21, 155; see also: T. Gray ed., Harvest failure in Cornwall and Devon: the Books of Orders and the Corn Surveys of 1623 and 1630–1 (Redruth, 1992), xxvii–xxvii; Appleby, Famine, 146.

72 A. M. Maclean ed., The registers of the parish of Greystoke in the county of Cumberland, baptisms, marriages and burials, 1559–1757 (Kendal, 1991).

73 Rogers, Lancashire population crisis, 17–18.

74 Rogers, Lancashire population crisis, 27.

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed