An excess of male over female deaths is characteristic of modem national populations, whereas in some high-mortality societies female mortality exceeds that of males. Among the Semai Senoi, a Malaysian Orang Asli (“aboriginal”) population, women experienced higher mortality than males in the decades before 1969. This differential occurred in all age classes older than 15 years so that the sex ratio progressively increased with age. A recent (1987) restudy of the Semai population found that sex-specific differential mortality is much reduced. A comparison of the 1969 and 1987 life tables shows a sharp shift in the sex ratios of mortality for the post-15-yearold age classes (the geometric means of age classes 15-44 were 0.768 in 1969 and 0.997 in 1987) so that male and female expectations of further life at age 15 are now nearly identical. In contrast to the best-known cases of high female mortality (mostly in South Asia), Semai sex differential mortality does not include the childhood ages. The Semai have traditionally been relatively sexually egalitarian, and sex bias in care has not occurred. Analysis of sex-specific causes of death for the pre-1969 population suggests that maternal mortality is the major cause of the excess female deaths. The reduced number of maternal deaths seems largely due to better health care, particularly the availability of hospital services. Interestingly, the reduction in female mortality has occurred simultaneously with increased fertility, and overall mortality has continued at relatively high levels (e0 < 36). Thus, rather than forming a component of a unitary demographic transition, declining sex differences in mortality can be accounted for by a specific factor, better maternal care.
Fix, Alan G.
"Changing Sex Ratio of Mortality in the Semai Senoi, 1969-1987,"
2, Article 10.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol63/iss2/10