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John Roberton, Observations on the Mortality
and Physical Management of Children

Part I, Section VII

The Comparative Mortality of the Sexes
Including the Still-Born

It is a curious but well authenticated fact that more males are born than females; and, as might be expected, such being the case, more males die under the age of 10 than of the other sex.

In the Liverpool registers, for 12 years in the present century, I find the male births to be 27,959; the female births, 24,020; giving a balance of 3,939 in favor of males. In Warrington, during 8 years, there were born 2,016 males, and 2,001 females. In England and Wales, on an average of 29 years, for every ten thousand females, there were 10,426 male births.

By a late report of the population in the Low Countries [1] it appears that there, the births of the boys and girls are more equal, being in the proportion of 1000 to 947. In France it is 1000 to 938, and in the kingdom of Naples the proportion is 1000 to 956. The same in a greater or less degree holds good wherever the subject has been investigated. [2]

As all the above calculations are made from the baptismal registers, and as more males than females are still-born and die before baptism, the difference in their respective mortality will be even greater than has been stated. [3]

By the still-born are to be understood such children as have been alive, but died before, or at, birth. From these are to be distinguished abortions, or such as have never quickened. Two elaborate papers already referred to, the productions of Drs. Clarke and Bland, contain much curious information on this subject. Of 1923 children born at the Westminster Lying-in Hospital, Dr. Bland reports that 972 were boys, and 951 girls, or in the proportion of 46 to 45. 1 in every 241 was deficient or monstrous; [4] and 1 in 23 still-born. Of the latter 49 were boys, and 35 girls. Taking the abortions and still-born together, 1 in 8 died before, or in, coming into the world.

Dr. Clarke gives the result of tables kept at the Dublin Lying-in Hospital for 27 years, -- from 1757 to 1784. In that period were born 20,117 children, of which the males were to the females in the proportion of 9 to 8, and 1 in 30 was still-born.

In the British Lying-in Hospital, during 52 years, the Tables exhibit facts nearly agreeing with those already given. Of 26,513 births, the boys were to the girls as 19 to 18, and the still-born 1 in 25. [5]

The chief object of Dr. Clarke, in his paper, is to investigate the causes of this disproportionate mortality of males over females before and after birth.

After great minuteness of detail and illustration, he comes to the conclusion, that the female foetus being larger and heavier than the male, requires more nourishment in utero, and encounters greater difficulty in the birth. Hence, when it happens that the mother is sickly or distorted, the male foetus will be sure, in either case, to suffer more than the female.

In this solution of the matter there is much plausibility, and no doubt some truth, as regards the greater hazard of males than females up to, and at, birth, or even for a short time after; but why the same law of mortality should continue, not only in youth, but throughout all the stages of life, is a problem which, in my opinion, remains yet to be solved. [6]

As to the mortality of the sexes after birth, a few examples will suffice to illustrate the subject. Of the 20,117 births in the Dublin Hospital, 10,647 were boys, and 9,470 girls. At the end of a fortnight the balance in favor of boys, originally 1177, was reduced to 483, being a greater loss of males than females within that period by 694.

The following table is constructed from the Northampton, Chester, and Warrington bills of mortality. It requires no comment. Of 3894 deaths under 10 years there were, --




Under 1 month



Between 1 & 2 months



Between 2 & 3 months



Between 3 & 6 months



Between 6 and 9 months



Between 9 and 12 months








[1] Annales des Sciences Naturelles, 1826.

[2] When men, even the most enlightened, have a theory to support, it is surprising how easy of faith they are respecting the facts which are supposed to favor it. About the middle of the last century, when it was the fashion to argue for the lawfulness of polygamy in warm climates, it was asserted that in all intertropical countries more girls are born than boys. Were such a circumstance true, coupled with the fact of the greater mortality of males than females, a strong case would be made out on behalf of Eastern polygamy. The law of nature however, relative to the greater proportion of male than female births, has been ascertained to be the same in every climate.

[3] It is probable that this curious difference in the proportion of male and female births depends, in some measure, on the age of the parents; as, from a variety of facts, it would appear that the younger they are, the higher is the proportion of female offspring. In all the illegitimate births in Sweden and Finland, during 20 years, and in Montpelier, during 21 years, the males and females were nearly equal. For obvious reasons the parents of such children will in general be considerably younger, than the parents of such as are born in wedlock. In Wales, where marriages are contracted later in life than in England, the proportion of male births to female is much greater than in the latter. See Milne on Annuities, &c.

[4] A Parisian professor has furnished an account of the cases of deformity which occurred at the Hospice de la Maternite, during 5 years. Out of 23,283 infants, 37 had club feet; 34 some mal-formation of the head or vertebral column; 29 had hare lip; 5 some affection of the lower belly and neighboring parts; 9 deformity of the hands or feet; 4 had different kinds of tumors; 4 the anus imperforate; 4 marks on the skin more or less large; 2 swelling of the hands and feet. In 2 the forearm was wanting; one was born with rickets well marked; one with the thigh out of joint; one with the limbs stiff; and another with the left leg emaciated and too short. One only had the right ear malformed; one the eyes wasted; one the cornea opaque. Besides 2 infants were born with two heads, four arms and four legs. Of all these cases, (139 in number, or 1 in 167.5 of the births) more were males than females. -- See Friedlander, de l'education physique de l'homme, -- 1815.

[5] The still-born compared to the live births, are stated to be, "1 in 24 for London and Vienna; 1 in 36 for Stockholm; 1 in 19 for Dresden; 1 in 33 for Brunswick; 1 in 15 for Hamburgh; 1 in 19 for Paris; and so high as 1 in 11 for Strasburg." In the Venereal Hospital at Paris, the proportion is 1 in 7, and in a similar kind of Hospital at Hamburgh 1 in 3. Casper's Medical Statistics. Edin. Med. & S. Jour. No. 88.

[6] The following estimate of the comparative mortality of males and females above the age of 9 years is taken from the Swedish tables. If its accuracy may be depended upon, it is highly interesting. "The difference is very small from the entrance on the 9th to the completion of the 20th year. It then increases till 25; from thence it decreases till the 32nd or 33rd year; increases again till the 39th and 40th where it falls as low as it was in the 32nd. After that it becomes greater than at any earlier age except the first year; and continues greater till the end of life." Milne on Annuities.

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Created 12/18/96 / Last modified 12/19/96
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