Does famine have a long-term effect on cohort mortality? Evidence from the 1959-1961 great leap forward famine in China.J Biosoc Sci 2009; 41(4):469-91JB
Using retrospective individual mortality records of three cohorts of newborns (1954-1958, 1959-1962 and 1963-1967) from a large national fertility survey conducted in 1988 in China, this paper examines 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 mortality than either the pre-famine or the post-famine cohort. 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.