The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The Benefits of Girlhood in the Patriarchy: Natal Familial Composition, Institutional Care Setting and Child Health Outcomes in Jamaica


Anthropology, University of California, Riverside

Saturday 4:00-4:15, Ballroom B Add to calendar

In West Indian culture, child socialization is imbued with a complicated mix of patriarchal institutional structures and cultural practices, and dynamic feminism. This paper explores associations between gendered childrearing practices, and variability in the health outcomes of boys and girls. Specifically, it examines the relationship between current place of residence, natal familial composition, and the health outcomes of a particularly vulnerable group of children: those living in children’s homes or orphanages. Ethnographic and anthropometric data were collected from 125 children ranging in age from 4 months to 18 years living in children’s homes in Manchester Parish, Jamaica. Preliminary findings suggest that natal familial size is significantly correlated with variability in gendered health outcomes. However, current place of residence is also correlated to variability in gendered health outcomes. Familial composition of the natal home is correlated to variability in anthropometric measures for girls, but not for boys. However, current place of residence is correlated to variability in health measures for boys, but not for girls. These findings support cultural and medical anthropology studies suggesting that despite patriarchal practices, girls are the favored gender within the natal home. Additionally, boys may fare better when removed from unsafe home environments and placed in single gender children’s home settings. This presentation considers how experiences of gender socialization and vulnerability impact boys and girls differently, and how these experiences become encoded within the body.

This research was funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation and The University of California, Riverside.

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