Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 331–362 | Cite as

Cross-cultural comparison of women’s midlife symptom-reporting: a china study

  • Jeanne L. Shea


Drawing on ethnographic and survey research conducted by the author in a general population sample in mainland China, this article presents findings on Chinese women’s midlife symptom reporting in comparison with pivotal studies conducted by Lock, Kaufert, and McKinlay in Japan, Canada, and the U.S. Analysis of the China survey data (N = 156 women, age 45–55) reveals for sixteen core symptoms a reporting frequency that is much lower than depicted in classic biomedical models of menopause. At the same time, however, the China data indicates problems with the popular extrapolation that midlife Asian women are virtually symptom-free compared to their North American peers. Finding the Chinese level of symptom-reporting low to moderate depending on the symptom, the article reveals important differences between Chinese and Japanese women in their level and pattern of symptom reporting, as well as substantial overlap with North American women in this regard. Referencing ethnographic materials on Chinese women and the cross-cultural literature on menopause, the article assesses potential explanations for the cross-cultural variation observed, including: local reproductive endocrinology, phytoestrogen consumption, aspects of East Asian culture, the nature of social change, the cultural acceptability of monitoring and voicing symptoms, and differences in dominant conceptions of midlife.


symptoms midlife women menopause cross-cultural comparisons Eastern versus Western biology versus culture 



Financial support was provided by the Mellon Foundation, FLAS, CSCC, NSF, Chiang Chingkuo Foundation, NIMH, Cora DuBois Trust, Freeman Foundation, Lintilhac Foundation, Parimitas, and University of Vermont Dean’s Fund. Scholarly feedback was generously shared by James L. Watson, Arthur Kleinman, Rubie S. Watson, Michael Phillips, Margaret Lock, Patricia Kaufert, Xu Ling, Chueh Chang, and the anonymous reviewers. Any errors are my own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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