Sex Assessment

  • Soren BlauEmail author
Living reference work entry


The estimation of the sex of a deceased person from an analysis of skeletal remains is one of the first procedures undertaken by anthropologists and osteologists as the sex of a person affects other analyses such as estimation of ancestry and age at death (e.g., Rowbotham 2016). In forensic cases, the estimation of sex is pivotal in contributing to the identification of unknown bodies as determining whether the individual is male or female halves the number of possible matches.


The sex of an individual is a biologically determined variable and differs from the gender of a person which is a social construct (e.g., Agarwal and Wesp 2017).

Key Issues

Age of the Individual

There has been considerable research undertaken on estimating the sex of an individual from the examination of juvenile skeletal remains (e.g., Bilfeld et al. 2013; Cunningham 2014). However, estimating the sex of individuals who have not reached puberty is limited because in most cases the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Agarwal, S.C., and J.K. Wesp, eds. 2017. Exploring sex and gender in bioarchaeology. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.Google Scholar
  2. Berrizbeitia, E.L. 1989. Sex determination with the head of the radius. Journal of Forensic Sciences 34 (5): 1206–1213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bidmos, M.A., V.E. Gibbon, and G. Strkalj. 2010. Recent advances in sex identification of human skeletal remains in South Africa. South African Journal of Science 106 (11–12): 1. Scholar
  4. Bilfeld, M.F., F. Dedouit, N. Sans, H. Rousseau, D. Rougé, and N. Telmon. 2013. Ontogeny of size and shape sexual dimorphism in the ilium: A multi-slice computed tomography study by geometric morphometry. Journal of Forensic Sciences 58 (2): 303–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burrows, A.M., V.P. Zanella, and T.M. Brown. 2003. Testing the validity of metacarpal use in sex assessment of human skeletal remains. Journal of Forensic Sciences 48 (1): 17–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cunningham, C.A. 2014. Anthropology: Skeleton; estimating juvenile age. In Encyclopedia of forensic science, 1–11. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  7. Decker, S.J., S.L. Savy-Jow, J.M. Ford, and D.R. Hilbelink. 2011. Virtual determination of sex: Metric and nonmetric traits of the adult pelvis from 3D computed tomography models. Journal of Forensic Sciences 56 (5): 1107–1114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Duric, M., Z. Rakocevic, and D. Donic. 2005. The reliability of sex determination of skeletons from forensic context in the Balkans. Forensic Science International 147: 159–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gibbon, V.E., M. Paximadis, G. Štrkalj, P. Ruff, and C.B. Penny. 2009. Novel methods of molecular sex identification from skeletal tissue using the amelogenin gene. Forensic Science International Genetics 3: 74–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Giles, E. 1970. Discriminant function sexing of the human skeleton. In Personal identification in mass disasters, ed. T.D. Stewart, 99–109. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Giles, E., and O. Elliot. 1963. Sex determination by discriminant function analysis of crania. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 21: 53–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Graw, M., A. Czarnetzki, and H.T. Haffner. 1999. The form of the supraorbital margin as a criterion in identification of sex from the skull: Investigations based on modern human skulls. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 108: 91–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Introna, F., Jr., G. Di Vella, C.P. Campobasso, and M. Dragone. 1997. Sex determination by discriminant analysis of calcanei measurements. Journal of Forensic Sciences 42 (4): 725–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Iscan, M.Y., and P. Miller-Shaivitz. 1984. Discriminant function sexing of the tibia. Journal of Forensic Sciences 29 (4): 1087–1093.Google Scholar
  15. Jones Haun, S. 2000. Brief communication: A study of the predictive accuracy of mandibular ramus flexure as a singular morphologic indicator of sex in an archaeological sample. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 111: 429–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kemkes-Grottenthaler, A. 2005. Sex determination by discriminant analysis: An evaluation of the reliability of patella measurements. Forensic Science International 147: 129–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Klales, A.R., and S.J. Cole. 2017. Improving nonmetric sex classification for Hispanic individuals. Journal of Forensic Sciences 62: 975–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Krogman, W.M., and M.Y. Iscan. 1986. The human skeleton in forensic medicine. 2nd ed. Springfield: C.C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  19. Mahakkanukrauh, P., S. Ruengdit, S.M. Tun, T. Case, and A. Sinthubua. 2017. Osteometric sex estimation from the os coxa in a Thai population. Forensic Science International 271: e1–127.e7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Manthey, L., R.L. Jantz, M. Bohnert, and K. Jellinghaus. 2017. Secular change of sexually dimorphic cranial variables in Euro-Americans and Germans. International Journal of Legal Medicine 131 (4): 1113–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McCormick, W.F., J.H. Stewart, and H. Greene. 1991. Sexing of human clavicles using length and circumference measurements. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 12: 175–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ortner, D.J. 2003. Identification of pathological conditions in human skeletal remains. 2nd ed. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  23. Phenice, T.W. 1969. A newly developed method of sexing the os pubis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 30 (2): 297–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Purkait, R. 2001. Measurements of ulna – a new method for determination of sex. Journal of Forensic Sciences 46 (4): 924–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Robinson, M.S., and M.A. Bidmos. 2009. The skull and humerus in the determination of sex: Reliability of discriminant function equations. Forensic Science International 186 (1–3): 86.e1–86.e5.Google Scholar
  26. Robinson, M.S., and M.A. Bidmos. 2011. An assessment of the accuracy of discriminant function equations of sex determination of the femur and tibia from a South African population. Forensic Science International 206 (1–3): 212.e1–212.e5.Google Scholar
  27. Rogers, T.L. 1999. A visual method of determining the sex of skeletal remains using the distal humerus. Journal of Forensic Sciences 44 (1): 57–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rowbotham, S. 2016. Anthropological estimation of sex. In Handbook of forensic anthropology and archaeology, ed. S. Blau and D.H. Ubelaker, 2nd ed., 261–272. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Smith, S.L. 1997. Attribution of foot bones to sex and population groups. Journal of Forensic Sciences 42 (2): 186–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Snodgrass, J.J. 2004. Sex differences and aging of the vertebral column. Journal of Forensic Sciences 49 (3): 458–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Spradley, M.K., and R.L. Jantz. 2011. Sex estimation in forensic anthropology: Skull versus postcranial elements. Journal of Forensic Sciences 56: 289–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stojanowski, C.M., and R.M. Seidemann. 1999. A re-evaluation of the sex prediction accuracy of the minimum supero-inferior femoral neck diameter for modern individuals. Journal of Forensic Sciences 44 (6): 1215–1218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Thomas, R.M., C.L. Parks, and A.H. Richard. 2016. Accuracy rates of sex estimation by forensic anthropologists through comparison with DNA typing results in forensic casework. Journal of Forensic Sciences 61: 1307–1310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Townsend, S.M. 2001. Sex determination of juvenile skeletal remains using ancient DNA: An evaluation of current molecular sex identification methods. MS dissertation, University of Auckland.Google Scholar
  35. Ubelaker, D.H., and C.M. DeGaglia. 2017. Population variation in skeletal sexual dimorphism. Forensic Science International 278: 407.e1–407.e7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wiredu, E.K., R. Kumoji, R. Seshadri, and R.B. Biritwum. 1999. Osteometric analysis of sexual dimorphism in the sternal end of the rib in a West African population. Journal of Forensic Sciences 44 (5): 921–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Bass, W.M. 1995. Human osteology: A laboratory and field manual of the human skeleton, Special publication. Vol. 2. 4th ed. Columbia: Missouri Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
  2. Blau, S., and A.J. Hill. In press. Paediatric anthropology and odontology. In Handbook of pediatric forensic pathology, ed. R.W. Byard and K.A. Collins. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Byers, S.N. 2005. Introduction to forensic anthropology. 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  4. Garvin, H.M. 2012. Adult sex determination: Methods and application. In A companion to forensic anthropology, ed. D. Dirkmaat, 239–247. Southern Gate: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hoppa, R.D., and C.M. FitzGerald. 2005. From head to toe: Integrating studies from bones and teeth in biological anthropology. In Human growth in the past: Studies from bones and teeth, ed. R.D. Hoppa and C.M. FitzGerald, 1–32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Klales, A.R., S.D. Ousley, and J.M. Volner. 2012. A revised method of sexing the human innominate using Phenice’s nonmetric traits and statistical methods. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149 (1): 104–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Rogers, T., and S. Saunders. 1994. Accuracy of sex determination using morphological traits of the human pelvis. Journal of Forensic Sciences 39: 1047–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Wescott, D.J. 2000. Sex variation in the second cervical vertebra. Journal of Forensic Sciences 45 (2): 462–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Williams, B.A., and T. Rogers. 2006. Evaluating the accuracy and precision of cranial morphological traits for sex determination. Journal of Forensic Sciences 51: 721–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forensic MedicineVictorian Institute of Forensic Medicine/Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Soren Blau
    • 1
  • Luis Fondebrider
    • 2
  • Douglas H. Ubelaker
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Forensic MedicineVictorian Institute of Forensic Medicine / Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA