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The China Great Leap Forward Famine: The Lasting Impact of Mothers’ Fetal Malnutrition on Their Offspring


  • Belton M. Fleisher

    () (Department of Economics, Ohio State University)

  • Seonghoon Kim

    () (Department of Economics, Ohio State University)


Mothers born around the China Great Leap Forward Famine (famine-born mothers) are likely to have worse adult outcomes due to a negative relationship between fetal malnutrition and their health and cognitive ability. Using data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, I investigate whether famine-born mothers transmit less human capital to their offspring through various channels, including less cognitive ability and other innate traits and by the choice of less investment in children’s human capital. My study also focuses on possible gender differences in these effects. I find that in-utero famine experience of famine-born mothers is negatively related to the education and labor outcomes of their offspring. However, female children are less affected by mothers’ famine experience than are men. This outcome suggests that Trivers-Willard (1973) effects dominate parental-choice effects despite the well-known son-preference of China.

Suggested Citation

  • Belton M. Fleisher & Seonghoon Kim, 2010. "The China Great Leap Forward Famine: The Lasting Impact of Mothers’ Fetal Malnutrition on Their Offspring," Working Papers 09-04, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:osu:osuewp:09-04

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Hongbin Li & Junsen Zhang, 2007. "Long-Term Effects Of The 1959-1961 China Famine: Mainland China and Hong Kong," NBER Working Papers 13384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Douglas Almond & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2008. "The effects of maternal fasting during Ramadan on birth and adult outcomes," Working Paper Series WP-07-22, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    3. Chen, Yuyu & Zhou, Li-An, 2007. "The long-term health and economic consequences of the 1959-1961 famine in China," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 659-681, July.
    4. Xin Meng & Nancy Qian, 2009. "The Long Term Consequences of Famine on Survivors: Evidence from a Unique Natural Experiment using China's Great Famine," NBER Working Papers 14917, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Li, Qiang & An, Lian, 2015. "Intergenerational health consequences of the 1959–1961 Great Famine on children in rural China," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 27-40.
    2. Meng, Xin & Zhao, Guochang, 2016. "The Long Shadow of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Intergenerational Transmission of Education," IZA Discussion Papers 10460, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Lee, Chulhee, 2014. "Intergenerational health consequences of in utero exposure to maternal stress: Evidence from the 1980 Kwangju uprising," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 284-291.

    More about this item


    Gender difference; Malnutrition; Health; Labor Market Outcomes; Schooling; Barker hypothesis; Trivers-Willard hypothesis; China Famine;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • P36 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions - - - Consumer Economics; Health; Education and Training; Welfare, Income, Wealth, and Poverty

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