The 1959–1961 Chinese Famine and Emigration to Hong Kong: A Migrant–Stayer Analysis of Famine Impact on Health and Cognitive Performance

Project: Research

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The 1959–1961 Chinese Famine was one of the worst human catastrophes in history. The famine caused about 30 million deaths, led to a sharp increase in miscarriages and stillbirths during the famine years, and had long-term negative impacts on survivors’ various outcomes such as height, weight, hypertension, mental health, educational attainment, and labor supply. Although a myriad of studies have focused on the long-term consequences of the famine, those studies are subject to a common weakness: the absence of a genuine comparison group that was not exposed to the famine because the famine afflicted all of China and no regions within the then border of the People's Republic of China were completely shielded.This project will tackle the above problem by using a novel migrant–stayer comparison to identify the causal effect of the famine on adult health and cognitive performance. Specifically, this study will use cross-border emigrants who moved out of mainland China to Hong Kong before the famine started as a comparison group; and this study will compare these “unexposed” emigrants to their “exposed” counterparts who stayed in the mainland and experienced the famine using comparable data from the Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics (HKPSSD) and the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS).HKPSSD and CFPS are representative panel surveys with similar research designs. HKPSSD includes over 3,000 immigrants who came from mainland China. These immigrants will be used to match their origin counterparts in CFPS (Guangdong sample) for the migrant–stayer comparison. Both surveys include comparable data on height, weight, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. CFPS repeatedly collected data on various measures on cognitive performance. This project will propose that a special module be attached to the coming wave of HKPSSD to collect comparable cognition data.The empirical findings from this project will provide a solid basis for the accurate assessment of the long-term consequences of early-life exposure to malnutrition. The project will generate large volumes of data and produce a series of studies that adopt a migrant–stayer comparison to enrich the literature on famine impact.


Project number9042748
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/19 → …