The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Health inequalities as seen through social status and regional trends during the Edo period in the Japanese archipelago


1Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Global Society, Kyushu University, 2Faculty of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University, 3Department of Anthropology, The University of Montana, Missoula

April 16, 2020 , Diamond 10 Add to calendar

The Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan was marked by a feudal society with a rigid caste system (e.g. samurai, merchant, and farmer), and during this period the population density of urban areas increased significantly as compared to earlier periods. Economic inequality existed between social strata, with farmers periodically suffering from poverty, hunger, and poor health due to the rapid growth of the monetary economy during the Edo Period.

This study aims to identify how this social inequality might correlate with health status, using linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) and cribra orbitalia (CO). This study examined 11 urban populations and nine rural populations in Japan, from northern Honshu through the southern island of Kyushu. First, we explore the relationship between health status during childhood and socio-economic status. Second, we analyze the prevalence of LEH and CO to distinguish health differences between genders.

Results suggest that the frequency of LEH in samurai (especially upper level samurai) was significantly higher than in other populations and the prevalence of CO in farmers in rural areas was slightly higher than in other populations. Logistic regression analysis showed that the prevalence of LEH was largely a factor of social rank, and the prevalence of CO was a factor in rural settlements. Also, regarding gender differences, the frequencies of LEH and CO were significantly higher among females in two urban merchant cities. Although no large gender differences were observed, this study revealed that socio-economic status significantly influenced health status during childhood during the Edo period.

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP17J04347 for H.T. and JP19H05737 for N.S.

Slides/Poster (pdf)