Long-Term Mental Health Costs of the Great Chinese Famine

61 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2021

See all articles by Mingwang Cheng

Mingwang Cheng

Tongji University - School of Economics and Management

Zhouxiang Wang

Tongji University - School of Economics and Management

Ning Neil Yu

Nanjing Audit University - Institute for Social and Economic Research

Date Written: September 12, 2021

Abstract

The Great Chinese Famine (1959–61) claimed tens of millions of lives. However, its long-term mental health costs on those who survived remains unexamined. To address this gap, we calculate the famine intensity of prefecture-level regions across China from a rich set of death records and use its variation and data from a recent nationally representative survey to identify the long-term effects of the famine on the mental health of those in rural areas who experienced the famine in the early years of their lives. Difference-in-differences estimates revealed that a one-standard-deviation rise in the experienced famine intensity predicts a 2.3% increase in the probability of severe depressive symptoms (or about 24.8% of the mean). This roughly translates into 3.77 million cases caused by the famine, which is quite likely an undercount. The main mediating channels of this effect include starvation experience, unequal resource allocation, and toxic stress. Our findings shed new light on how large-scale food security failures may impact the mental well-being of the survivors.

Keywords: The Great Chinese Famine, Mental Health, Early-Life Experience, Man-Made Disaster

JEL Classification: I12, I31, N35

Suggested Citation

Cheng, Mingwang and Wang, Zhouxiang and Yu, Ning Neil, Long-Term Mental Health Costs of the Great Chinese Famine (September 12, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3922174 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3922174

Mingwang Cheng (Contact Author)

Tongji University - School of Economics and Management ( email )

Siping Road 1500
Shanghai, Shanghai 200092
China

Zhouxiang Wang

Tongji University - School of Economics and Management ( email )

Siping Road 1500
Shanghai, Shanghai 200092
China

Ning Neil Yu

Nanjing Audit University - Institute for Social and Economic Research ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
30
Abstract Views
231
PlumX Metrics