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The Biological Standard of Living in China during the 20th Century: Evidence from the Age at Menarche

Pierre van der Eng () and Kitae Sohn

No 10, CEH Discussion Papers from Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University

Abstract: This paper uses the mean age at menarche as an indicator of changes in the standard of living in China during the tumultuous 20th century. It discusses the difficulties of using this indicator in terms of the quality of the available data, the processing the basic data, and the interpretation of the results. The paper finds that the mean age at menarche in China stagnated at 16 to 17 years for women born during the 1880s-1930s, although it also finds decreases in some urban areas, such as Beijing and Shanghai, indicative of an improving standard of living. The mean age at menarche increased for 1940s birth cohorts, in part due the negative effects of the China-Japan war and the civil war in the 1940s, but also the famine of 1959-1962 that affected these cohorts during puberty. The mean age at menarche decreased in a sustained way for women born during the 1950s to the early 2000s, to a level of 12.1 in 2000-03. This decrease preceded the acceleration of economic growth in the 1980s. Increased educational attainment since the 1940s explains much of the decrease in the age at menarche, ahead of improvements in nutrition, hygiene and healthcare.

Keywords: China; living standards; human growth; anthropometrics; menarche (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I12 I31 N15 O15 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cna and nep-his
Date: 2018-07
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