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Sins of the Father: The Intergenerational Legacy of the 1959-61 Great Chinese Famine on Children's Cognitive Development

Author

Listed:
  • Chih Ming Tan

    (Department of Economics, College of Business and Public Administration, University of North Dakota, USA)

  • Zhibo Tan

    (National School of Development, Peking University, China)

  • Xiaobo Zhang

    () (China Center for Economic Research (CCER), Peking University, China; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC, USA)

Abstract

The intergenerational effect of fetal exposure to malnutrition on cognitive ability has rarely been studied for human beings in large part due to lack of data. In this paper, we exploit a natural experiment, the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61, and employ a novel data set, the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), to explore the intergenerational legacy of early childhood health shocks on the cognitive abilities of the children of parents born during the famine. We find that daughters born to rural fathers who experienced the famine in early childhood score lower in major tests than sons, whereas children born to female survivors are not affected. By careful elimination of alternative explanations, we conclude that the culling effect on the exposed generation is remarkably efficient at mitigating the intergenerational transmission of any scarring effects from the famine. The uncovered gender-specific effect is almost entirely attributable to son-preference exhibited by rural famine fathers. Our findings suggest that, at least for cognitive abilities, human populations appear to be extremely resilient to shocks, largely shielding their offspring from being seriously damaged.

Suggested Citation

  • Chih Ming Tan & Zhibo Tan & Xiaobo Zhang, 2014. "Sins of the Father: The Intergenerational Legacy of the 1959-61 Great Chinese Famine on Children's Cognitive Development," Working Paper series 08_14, Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:rim:rimwps:08_14
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Neelsen, Sven & Stratmann, Thomas, 2011. "Effects of prenatal and early life malnutrition: Evidence from the Greek famine," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 479-488, May.
    2. Martin Ravallion, 1997. "Famines and Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1205-1242, September.
    3. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2005. "Why the Apple Doesn't Fall Far: Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 437-449, March.
    4. Song, Shige, 2010. "Mortality consequences of the 1959-1961 Great Leap Forward famine in China: Debilitation, selection, and mortality crossovers," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 551-558, August.
    5. Lin, Justin Yifu & Yang, Dennis Tao, 2000. "Food Availability, Entitlements and the Chinese Famine of 1959-61," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 136-158, January.
    6. Gregory Clark, 2015. "The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10181-2.
    7. Douglas Almond & Janet Currie, 2011. "Killing Me Softly: The Fetal Origins Hypothesis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 153-172, Summer.
    8. 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.
    9. Douglas Almond & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2011. "Health Capital and the Prenatal Environment: The Effect of Ramadan Observance during Pregnancy," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 56-85, October.
    10. Mu, Ren & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2011. "Why does the Great Chinese Famine affect the male and female survivors differently? Mortality selection versus son preference," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 92-105, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Caruso, Germán & Miller, Sebastian, 2015. "Long run effects and intergenerational transmission of natural disasters: A case study on the 1970 Ancash Earthquake," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 134-150.
    2. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2016. "“The Last, the Most Dreadful Resource of Nature”: Economic-Historical Reflections on Famine," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 44(2), pages 225-241, June.
    3. repec:eee:chieco:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:27-49 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Xu, Hongwei & Li, Lydia & Zhang, Zhenmei & Liu, Jinyu, 2016. "Is natural experiment a cure? Re-examining the long-term health effects of China's 1959–1961 famine," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 110-122.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Famine; Health; China; Intergenerational Transmission; Epigenetics;

    JEL classification:

    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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