Between 1958 and 1961, China experienced one of the worse famines in her history. Birth rates fell during these years and recovered immediately afterwards. The famine also adversely affected the health of these cohorts. This paper provides non-parametric estimates of the total effects of the famine on the marital behaviour of famine-affected cohorts in the rural areas of Sichuan and Anhui. These reduced from estimates incorporate general equilibrium and heterogeneous treatment effects, two important components of equilibrium marital behaviour.
Next, the paper uses a structural model of the marriage market, the Choo-Siow model, to decompose observed marital outcomes into quantity and quality effects of the famine. The structural estimates show that the famine substantially reduced the marital attractiveness of the famine born cohort. The conclusion is that the small observed changes in marriage rates of the famine born cohorts are due to a substantial decline in their marital attractiveness. Controlling for changes in educational attainment does not change the conclusion.