The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Working our fingers to the bone: osteoarthritis in the hands of a historic population


Department of Sociology & Anthropology, North Carolina State University

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This study examines osteoarthritis (OA) progression in the hands of an urban working class African-American and European-American population born during the 19th century. A total of 816 hands representing 408 individuals from the Hamann-Todd anatomical collection were macroscopically examined for evidence of OA. Using a nonrandom multi-stage sampling strategy, equal numbers of specimens were selected from each demographic subgroup: African-American males, African-American females, European-American males, and European-American females. Among these individuals, 206 were female and 202 were male while 202 were African-American and 206 were European-American.

Individuals were grouped into cohorts by age, birth year, sex and ethnicity and frequency differences were assessed using Fisher’s exact test. OA was discovered in 44% of the sample with European-Americans (104/206) having significantly higher rates (p = 0.0052) than African-Americans (74/202). Additionally, individuals born after 1860 had significantly higher OA rates (p = 0.0001) compared to those born prior to that year. Archival research utilizing the Minnesota Population Center’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) was used to help contextualize these results with regard to occupational stress from the antebellum period to the second industrial revolution in Cleveland, Ohio. As these results demonstrate, industrialism took its toll on the American work force as they toiled in factories and mills in an ever advancing industrial age.

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