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23 August 2022

Long Shadows: Contemporary Health Consequences of Kazakhstan's Collectivization-Induced Famine

Authors: Charles Becker, Zhaomin Li

Abstract: The massive famines that resulted from the Soviet Union’s ruthless introduction of collectivization, livestock seizure, and grain requisitions from 1929-1932 were felt most acutely in northern Kazakhstan, whose large nomadic population was especially vulnerable. While the resulting chaos makes it impossible to estimate precise population losses, it is generally accepted that a quarter to half of the population perished. This paper uses anthropometric data on the height of second-generation adults – women whose mothers were born during the famine – to explore important, disputed aspects of the famine, and specifically tries to assess where the famine was most intense. We find that children of ethnically Kazakh women born in rural Northern and Eastern regions suffered a nearly 5-centimeter reduction in height (0.8 standard deviations, or about 3% of the mean) relative to their peers, confirming those historians who point to this population as having borne the most tragic consequences.

About the authors:

Professor Charles M. Becker joined the Duke faculty in 2003, where he directed the American Economic Association’s Summer Program and Minority Scholarship Program (2003-2007). He previously directed this program at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he taught from 1999-2003. Becker earned his PhD in Economics at Princeton University (1981) and was an undergraduate at Grinnell College (BA, Economics and Russian language, 1976). He previously taught at Vanderbilt University and at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he directed the Economics Institute from 1990-96. In 1998-99, Becker served as Team Leader for the Asian Development Bank’s pension reform project in Kyrgyzstan; from 1999-2006 he served as an advisor to the Kazakhstan government on its pension reform program. International Academic Council of the Kyiv School of Economics from 2012 to 2015. (member from 2005 to 2017)

Zhaomin Li is first year PhD student in political science at University of Washington in Seattle, US. He received his MA in politics at New York University, his MA in economics at Duke University, and BA/BS in economics/mathematics at University of Colorado, Denver. His research interests lie primarily in political economy, economic history and comparative politics.

Keywords: Famine, collectivization, Kazakhstan
JEL classification: N35, N45, P20