Japanese cultural beliefs linked to increased female infant mortality in 1966, the year of the fire horse

Research Activities, June 2012, No. 382

According to Japanese legend, females born in the year of the fire horse, which last occurred in 1966, have a fiery temper and strong will. Parents view these traits as reducing girls' desirability as marriage partners and bearers of grandchildren. The Japanese cultural aversion to "fire-horse women" may reduce parental investment, thus jeopardizing the health of females born in 1966, suggests a new study. "Parental investment" is defined as any expenditure by parents on an individual offspring that reduces their potential to invest in other present and future offspring.

The study of Japanese infant mortality data from 1947 to 1976 found that the female infant mortality rate in 1966 was 1.1 deaths per 1,000 live births higher than anticipated. There were 721 excess female infant deaths statistically attributable to the fire-horse year. Unlike China and many Asian societies, Japan has no apparent cultural preference for male births. It also has one of the lowest infant mortality rates (2.6 deaths per 1,000 live births) in the world.

The researchers conclude that, despite the relatively strong governmental involvement and secular improvements in Japanese health and welfare during the post-World War II era, cultural forces in 1966 appear to have reduced parental investment sufficiently enough to increase female infant mortality. They predict that any burst of public health initiatives for the next fire-horse year (2026) would aim to counteract these cultural forces. This study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00086).

See "Transient cultural influences on infant mortality: Fire-horse daughters in Japan" by Tim A. Bruckner, Ph.D., Meenakshi Subbaraman, Ph.D., and Ralph A. Catalano, Ph.D., M.R.P., in the American Journal of Human Biology 23, pp. 583-591, 2011.

Current as of June 2012
Internet Citation: Japanese cultural beliefs linked to increased female infant mortality in 1966, the year of the fire horse: Research Activities, June 2012, No. 382. June 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/jun12/0612RA19.html