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Menopause in Different Cultures: Talking to an Anthropologist

Menopause in Different Cultures: Talking to an Anthropologist

The menopause happens to all women, all around the world. It is therefore no surprise that the experience of menopause is vastly different in different parts of the world. This week we wanted to find out more about how womens' experiences of the menopause differ around the world, so we had a conversation with Megan Arnot, who is completing her PhD at UCL. Megan is an anthropologist, which means her research focuses on human experience and behaviour.

Megan has been studying how cultures and ethnic groups affect the experience of menopause for women, particularly focusing on the four groups of women living around the Lugu Lake in Sichuan, China. The four groups work as an ideal case study as they experience the same ecology and environment, but experience life in very different ways.  

She has been comparing the living patterns between these groups, looking in particularly at their family life. Having noticed that different ethnic groups had drastically different living situations, she was able to identify with her fellow researchers two types of marriages that existed around this lake. Those types of marriage are walking marriages and patriarchal marriages. We'll explain: a walking marriage is when the husband and wife both live with their respective families (that is, separately), whereas a patriarchal marriage is one where a woman moves in with her husband’s family.

Megan found through her research that living situations can deeply affect the way in which women live their lives, and in turn how women experience menopause. She was able to look at a range of different factors including: level of support, stress within the family unit, and culture. She found that women who were surrounded by people they were directly related to, often experienced less severe symptoms of menopause and often lower levels of stress. Here it is important to note that Chinese culture accepts ageing in a different way to Western society, often viewing it as a mark of respect and therefore integrating the elder generations into family life to a larger extent. These different attitudes towards ageing sees menopause as moving towards a new stage of life rather than an end. In her research, Megan was also able to consider socio-economic factors, as women who were financially insecure tend to experience higher levels of stress, and as a result more severe symptoms of menopause. This finding seems unsurprising and relatable no matter where you are!

While Megan's studies may seem specific to a particular region of the world, they touch on widely applicable themes. Dealing with family finances, managing and caring for in-laws, and getting older are struggles many women outside of Lugu Lake also experience. Yet the view that the menopause and ageing is simply a new stage of life with its own advantages is a valuable mindset. We think that's one worth keeping no matter where you are.


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