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
Date Written: May 30, 2014
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
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