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'The Last, the Most Dreadful Resource of Nature’: Economic-historical Reflections on Famine


  • Cormac Ó Gráda


The lecture paper focuses on some topics that remain current in famine studies. First, it reviews the link between food prices and the severity of famines as reflected in excess mortality. Second, it places the death tolls from several recent famines in sub-Saharan Africa in historical context. Third, it reviews the impact of famines on fertility. Famines are always associated with a reduction in births; but to what extent are those births lost or births postponed? Fourth, it reviews the literature that invokes famines as a testing ground for the foetal origins hypothesis. Finally, it reviews the prospect of a near future in which famines have been consigned to history.

Suggested Citation

  • Cormac Ó Gráda, 2016. "'The Last, the Most Dreadful Resource of Nature’: Economic-historical Reflections on Famine," Working Papers 201603, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucn:wpaper:201603

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2015. "Why Ireland Starved after Three Decades: The Great Famine in Cross-Section Reconsidered," Working Papers 201510, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    2. Enkelejda Havari & Franco Peracchi, 2014. "Growing up in wartime - Evidence from the era of two world wars," EIEF Working Papers Series 1405, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Sep 2014.
    3. Nico Voigtl?nder & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2013. "Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(4), pages 165-186, Fall.
    4. 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.
    5. Stefan Dercon & Catherine Porter, 2014. "Live Aid Revisited: Long-Term Impacts Of The 1984 Ethiopian Famine On Children," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(4), pages 927-948, August.
    6. Jürges, Hendrik, 2013. "Collateral damage: The German food crisis, educational attainment and labor market outcomes of German post-war cohorts," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 286-303.
    7. Berazneva, Julia & Lee, David R., 2013. "Explaining the African food riots of 2007–2008: An empirical analysis," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 28-39.
    8. Tan, Chih Ming & Tan, Zhibo & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2014. "Sins of the fathers: The intergenerational legacy of the 1959-1961 Great Chinese Famine on children's cognitive development:," IFPRI discussion papers 1351, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    9. Neelsen, Sven & Stratmann, Thomas, 2012. "Long-run effects of fetal influenza exposure: Evidence from Switzerland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 58-66.
    10. Kung, James Kai-sing, 2014. "The Emperor Strikes Back: Political Status, Career Incentives and Grain Procurement during China's Great Leap Famine," Political Science Research and Methods, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(02), pages 179-211, October.
    11. 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.
    12. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2014. "Living standards and mortality since the middle ages," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(2), pages 358-381, May.
    13. Melissa Dell & Benjamin F. Jones & Benjamin A. Olken, 2014. "What Do We Learn from the Weather? The New Climate-Economy Literature," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(3), pages 740-798, September.
    14. Iris Kesternich & Bettina Siflinger & James P. Smith & Joachim K. Winter, 2014. "The Effects of World War II on Economic and Health Outcomes across Europe," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(1), pages 103-118, March.
    15. Iris Kesternich & Bettina Siflinger & James P. Smith & Joachim K. Winter, 2014. "The Effects of World War II on Economic and Health Outcomes across Europe," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, pages 103-118.
    16. 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.
    17. 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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    More about this item


    Famine; Malnutrition;

    JEL classification:

    • N1 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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