The Dutch potato famine 1846-1847: A study on the relationships between early-life exposure and later-life mortality

Gerard J. van den Berg*, Maarten Lindeboom, France Portrait

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Dutch Potato Famine of 1846/47 is one of the earliest historical famines for which individual records exist that can be used to study long-run mortality effects of nutritional conditions early in life. In this chapter we discuss the origins and extent of this famine, and we study the long-run effects of exposure to the Potato famine in utero or around birth vis-à-vis birth outside the exposure birth cohorts. We use historical individual records, merged with data on the occurrence of the Potato famine and with data on food prices and on the occurrence of epidemics. We provide results of simple non-parametric analyses based on a comparison of birth cohorts born before, during and after the famine. We also present results of parametric analyses in which we control for systematic differences in the composition of these birth cohorts. The non-parametric and parametric results agree and suggest long-run effects among those born in the famine. For men born and/or in utero for at least six months during the Potato Famine, the empirical results show a loss of residual lifetime at age 50 up to 3.1 years (in the non-parametric analyses) and 4 years (in the parametric analyses). The empirical results for females are only marginally significant (at a statistical significance level of 10% but not 5%) and show a reduction of residual life expectancy at age 50 up to 1.8 years (in the non-parametric analyses) and 2.5 years (in the parametric analyses). In addition, the parametric analyses suggest that especially the children of low social classes were affected by exposure to the Potato famine in early life. The empirical findings rely on our recent publication [10].

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly Life Nutrition, Adult Health and Development
Subtitle of host publicationLessons from Changing Diets, Famines and Experimental Studies
EditorsAlexander Vaiserman
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc, Hauppauge, NY, USA.
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781624171291
Publication statusPublished - 1-Mar-2013
Externally publishedYes

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