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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

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Volume 20 (2020)

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The Consequences of the 1959–1961 Chinese Famine for Educational Attainment

Margaret J. Lay / Johannes Norling
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Economics, Mount Holyoke College, 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA 01075, USA
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Published Online: 2020-02-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2019-0112


This paper finds that the Great Chinese Famine of 1959–1961 reduced lifetime educational attainment by up to 3.8 years for people who lived in areas most severely hit by the famine. Using geographical variation in famine intensity, information about place of residence during the famine, and educational attainment recorded in the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, the paper demonstrates that the decline in educational attainment was particularly sharp for women. This decline interrupted substantial gains in schooling achieved in China during the middle part of the twentieth century.

Keywords: education; famine; cognition; China

JEL Classification: I20; O12; Q18; N35


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Published Online: 2020-02-01

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 20190112, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2019-0112.

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