MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: Are there any anatomical differences in feet based on gender?

Date: Tue Jan 18 18:03:29 2000
Posted By: Thomas Greiner, Ph.D.
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 944516790.An

You bet there are. But that's a more complicated question than you might think. There was a large anthropometric survey conducted by the US Army about 10 years ago that looked at size and shape differences of the body in all sorts of different human groupings. I don't have the exact results of the analysis on feet in front of me, but I know that there are differences between men and women. Based on my analysis of the hand (same database different body part) I can tell you that women's hands tend to be longer and narrower. I suspect that the feet would show a similar pattern. And, of course, men a bigger than women, so on average you would expect men to have larger feet.

When you ask about differences among the sexes, you need to separate the genetic differences (the "sex" differences) from those that contain a large element of cultural influence (the "gender" differences). Nearly all members of our society have some type of foot deformity due to the fact that we all wear shoes. Particularly during childhood, our feet grow faster than we acquire new shoes. That means that nearly all of us wore shoes that were too small during some part of our lives - and that lead to some foot deformity.

Exaggerated gender (culture based) differences come from the cultural trends that cause men and women to wear different types of shoes. If we take the most extreme example, women tend to wear high heeled shoes more than do men. High heels effectively cause the wearer to walk on the balls of the feet (on the metatarsal heads) the way a dog or a cat walks. This puts pressure on the metatarsal heads and causes the toes to twist, shrivel and bend inward. You see this type of deformity more often in women, and you can usually attribute it to the types of shoes that they wear. Still, there is a range of variation for both sexes (genders) with a considerable amount of overlap.

Parham KR, CC Gordon & CF Bensel
(1987) Gender and race differences in foot dimension. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 72:240

Gordon, et al
(1989) 1988 Anthropometric survey of US Army personnel: methods and summary statistics. Technical Report NATICK/TR-89/044 US Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center. Natick, MA

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