Does Famine Have a Long-Term Effect on Cohort Mortality? Evidence from the 1959-1961 Great Leap Forward Famine in China

  • Shige Song
Keywords: selection effect, fetal origins, famine, China, mortality, Great Leap Forward


Using individual mortality records from three cohorts of newborns (1954-1958, 1959- 1962, and 1963-1967) from a large national fertility survey data conducted in 1988 in China, I examine the effect of being conceived or born during the 1959-1961 Great Leap Forward Famine on postnatal mortality. The results show strong evidence of a short-term (period) effect of the famine, caused directly by starvation or severe malnutrition during the period of the famine. After controlling for period mortality fluctuation, however, the famine-born cohort does not show higher postnatal mortality than either the pre-famine or the post-famine cohort – as would have been expected from the “fetal origins” hypothesis. Aggregate-level cross-temporal comparisons using published cohort
population counts from China’s 1982 Census, 1990 Census, 1995 micro Census, 2000 Census, and 2005 micro Census lead to the same conclusion. The relevance of these new findings for the “fetal origins” hypothesis and the selection effect hypothesis is discussed.


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