Environment and sex ratios among Alaska Natives: An historical perspective


Human-environment interactions can affect the sex ratios of resource-dependent societies in a variety of ways. Historical and contemporary data on Alaska Native populations illustrate such effects. Some eighteenth and early nineteenth century observers noted an excess of females, which they attributed to high mortality among hunters. Population counts in the later nineteenth century and well into the twentieth found instead an excess of men in many communities. Female infanticide was credited as the explanation: since family survival depended upon hunting success, males were more valued. Although infanticide explanations for the excess of males have been widely believed, available demographic data point to something else: higher adult female mortality. Finally, in the postwar years, the importance of mortality differentials seems to have faded- and also changed direction. Female outmigration from villages accounts for much of the gender imbalance among Native populations today. Natural-resource development, particularly North Slope oil, indirectly drives this migration. In Alaska's transcultural communities, the present gender imbalances raise issues of individual and cultural survival.



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Population and Environment



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© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1997