Sins of the Fathers: The Intergenerational Legacy of the 1959-1961 Great Chinese Famine on Children’s Cognitive Development

44 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2014

See all articles by Chih Ming Tan

Chih Ming Tan

University of North Dakota - College of Business & Public Administration - Department of Economics

Tan Zhibo

Fudan University - School of Economics; Peking University

Xiaobo Zhang

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Date Written: May 30, 2014

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 1959-1961, and employ a novel dataset, the China Family Panel Studies, 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.

Keywords: Agricultural policies, Children, Economic development, epigenetics, Famine, Hunger, intergenerational transmission, malnutrition, Nutrition, Resilience, Asia, China, East Asia

JEL Classification: I12, I15, J10, J13, O12

Suggested Citation

Tan, Chih Ming and Zhibo, Tan and Zhang, Xiaobo, Sins of the Fathers: The Intergenerational Legacy of the 1959-1961 Great Chinese Famine on Children’s Cognitive Development (May 30, 2014). IFPRI Discussion Paper 01351, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2483990 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2483990

Chih Ming Tan (Contact Author)

University of North Dakota - College of Business & Public Administration - Department of Economics ( email )

293 Centennial Drive Stop 8369
Grand Forks, ND 58202-8369
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.google.com/site/chihmingtan/home

Tan Zhibo

Fudan University - School of Economics ( email )

600 GuoQuan Road
Shanghai, 200433
China

Peking University ( email )

No. 38 Xueyuan Road
Haidian District
Beijing, Beijing 100871
China

Xiaobo Zhang

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ( email )

2033 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
United States
202-862-5677 (Phone)
202-467-4439 (Fax)

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