Volume 29 - Article 26 | Pages 707–728  

Prenatal malnutrition and subsequent foetal loss risk: Evidence from the 1959-1961 Chinese famine

By Shige Song


Background: Scientists disagree on whether prenatal malnutrition has long-term influences on women’s reproductive function, and empirical evidence of such long-term effects remains limited and inconsistent.

Methods: Using the retrospective pregnancy history of 12,567 Chinese women collected in a nationally representative sample survey in 2001, this study conducted difference-in-differences analyses to investigate the relationship between prenatal exposure to the 1959-1961 Great Leap Forward Famine in China and the subsequent risk of involuntary foetal loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth, and how this relationship changes between the rural and urban populations.

Results: Prenatal exposure to the Great Leap Forward Famine had no long-term effect on women’s risk of miscarriage. Such an exposure increased the risk of stillbirth among urban women but not among rural women.

Conclusions: The results support the foetal origins hypothesis. The significant urban-rural difference in the effect of prenatal famine exposure on stillbirth suggests the presence of a long-term negative foetal origins effect and a strong selection effect caused by famine-induced population attrition.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Population sex imbalance in China before the One-Child Policy
Volume 40 - Article 13

The impact of sent-down movement on Chinese women's age at first marriage
Volume 34 - Article 28

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