Gendering Demographic Change in the Middle Ages

Maryanne Kowaleski

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Gendering Demographic Change in the Middle Ages

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Gender and Sexuality


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This essay explores the documentary and skeletal evidence for understanding the relationship between gender and population change in the Middle Ages by focusing on mortality, fertility, and migration. Although cemeteries and historical records both show high sex ratios that imply female supermortality, the explanations offered for this imbalance indicate little consensus, not least because of gender biases in the extant records and in the methods employed to exploit them. Studies of fertility throw a helpful light on gender and population change, even though lack of direct data has forced demographers to develop innovative, if often controversial, ways to understand how fertility worked, through such measures as female age at marriage, proportions of women married, and household size. New techniques such as mitochondrial DNA and isotope analysis show that women migrated over greater distances than did men, while documentary evidence for migration over short distances reveals that women did not always move for the same reasons as men.

Keywords: demography; paleodemography; archaeology; mortality; women and work; fertility; age at marriage; nuptiality; migration

Article.  8198 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Gender and Sexuality

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