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Reproductive consequences of China's Great Famine, 1959-1961

Yong Cai, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Feng Wang, University of California, Irvine

The Great Leap Forward Famine of China (1959-1961) is the costliest famine ever in human history in terms of human lives lost.Huge demographic losses and swings not only wreaked havoc and generated profound reverberations for the Chinese people and society,they also provide a rare opportunity to understand how human populations react and adapt to such calamities, and how social organization helped to protect some while punish the others. In this paper, we focus on the reproductive consequences, namely the magnitude and the mechanisms of reproductive (fertility) loss ((TFR dropped from 6.41 in 1957 to 3.29 in 1961, before rebounding to 7.5 in 1964). We explore mechanisms through which reproductive losses occurred, and how populations of different social strata reacted differently to the famine. Our paper will be based on two large surveys conducted in the 1980s that included detailed pregnancy histories of up to 800,000 women, many of whom experienced the great famine.

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Presented in Poster Session 2: Poster Session 2: fertility, family and children