Long-Run Health Consequences of Early-Life Exposure to the 1959-61 China Famine

Wen Fan, University of Minnesota
Yue Qian, Ohio State University

This paper examines the long-run health consequences of early-life malnutrition by exploring the natural experiment created by the 1959-61 Chinese famine, possibly the largest famine in human history. Taking advantage of famine severity variation across the temporal, geographic (province and urban/rural) and gender dimensions, we construct triple- and quadruple-difference estimators to identify the long-term health consequences of early-life exposure to the famine. Using a sample of 2,924 adults born between 1955 and 1966 in China from a nationally representative survey – the 2005 Chinese General Social Survey, we find that the China famine had adverse effects on mid-life health (measured by the 8-item general health questionnaire), income, marital status, and marginally for educational attainment. In particular, it affected women born in 1961 and 1962 most adversely. We employ the historical background of the 1959-61 famine, China’s century-long son-preference culture and mortality selection to explain these findings.

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Presented in Session 10: The Long-Term Impact of Famines and Environmental Shocks