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Famine Demography - An Introduction

  • Tim Dyson

    (London School of Economics)

  • Cormac Ó Gráda

    (University College Dublin)

Most dictionary definitions of ‘famine’ equate it with food scarcity and widespread hunger. They tend to remain silent on the demographic aspects, although the extra mortality caused by famines offers one easy and obvious gauge for ranking famines. By this reckoning, for example, the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s was the greatest in nineteenth-century Europe. By the same token some of the modern famines highlighted in media accounts are ‘small’ by historical standards. Excess mortality, however, is only one aspect of famine demography. Famines typically reduce births and marriages too, and the migrations that they often give rise to may either increase or reduce the death toll. There are differences also between how modern famines kill and how historical famines did so. Modern famines differ too in who they kill; they tend to be more class-specific and they seem even more likely to target males than females than famines in the past. Moreover, famines often have demographic causes as well as consequences; and their consequences may be long-term as well as short-term.

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Paper provided by School of Economics, University College Dublin in its series Working Papers with number 200125.

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Length: 19 pages
Date of creation: 27 Oct 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ucn:wpaper:200125
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  1. Martin Ravallion, 1997. "Famines and Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1205-1242, September.
  2. Gr da, Cormac & O'Rourke, Kevin H., 1997. "Migration as disaster relief: Lessons from the Great Irish Famine," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(01), pages 3-25, April.
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