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Intergenerational Effects of the 1959-61 China Famine

  • 2010
  • Book Chapter
Fung, Winnie & Ha, Wei

Editors: Fuentes-Nieva, Ricardo & Seck, Papa A

Publication Title: Risks, Shocks, and Human Development: On the Brink

Pages: 222-254

Abstract: Recent studies have documented the long-term economic effects of maternal and infant malnutrition. Little is known, however, about whether such effects have intergenerational persistence. Understanding the intergenerational transmission of health capital is important for us to understand the intergenerational transmission of poverty. We use the 1959-61 China Famine as a quasi-experiment to study the intergenerational effects of malnutrition. Using a rich set of household and individual- level longitudinal survey data, we study the effects of the famine on the health and education outcomes of children whose parents were themselves born or conceived during the famine. We exploit both temporal and regional variation in famine intensity, and make use of the fact that migration control was tightly enforced in China before the mid 1990s, so our estimates are less likely to be subject to bias from selective migration. We find that individuals born during the famine experience stunting, have a higher BMI, have fewer years of schooling, and are less likely to have completed primary school. We then show that children born to these famine cohorts, when we observe them 30 years after the famine, also experience significant negative effects. These children have a lower height-for-age and weight-for-age compared to those born to parents who have not been exposed to the famine. The negative effects do not disappear even after controlling for parents’ health and education. Effects of mother’s famine exposure are stronger than the effects of father’s famine exposure. The negative effects for boys are much stronger than for girls.


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