Fetal Origin Hypothesis over Life Cycle: A Tale of Two Disasters


This paper uses the largest plague in the 20th century and the Great Pandemic as natural experiments to test the fetal origin hypothesis. The plague arrived in northeast China unexpectedly in October 1910 and largely subsided by March 1911, killing over 60 thousand people. The results indicate that women exposed to the plague in-utero displayed worse health, lower cognition, higher depression, and poorer life quality. In addition, they also presented lower literacy, lower spousal education, fewer children, lower household income, receiving less transfer from children, and expending less on medical care. I do not find robust evidence for men or for the effects of the plague at ages 1-5. In contrast, using the deaths caused by the 1918 Influenza Pandemic across countries, I find that experiencing the flu both at birth and during early childhood leads to significantly higher mortality in later life. Since the plague infection lead to death for sure while the flu did not, these results deepen our understanding the impacts on the life course of early childhood experiences and help to reconcile the conflicting findings in the literature.
Keywords: Long-run effects, In-utero, Health

Last updated on 10/14/2016