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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Feb;66(3):596-608. Epub 2007 Nov 19.

The North Korean standard of living during the famine.

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Department of Economics, University of Tuebingen, Germany.


For decades, North Korea has been one of the world's most secluded societies. Due to a lack of reliable statistics, little analytical research has been done on the well-being of those who suffer most under totalitarianism: the North Korean people. By considering height data as a sensitive indicator of the North Korean standard of living, we explain what has historically influenced the welfare of children in different regions. Using cross-sectional data from 1997 when the peak of the infamous famine coincided with extreme environmental influences, we primarily test a number of socioeconomic hypotheses that have been proposed in the literature. Of these, the public distribution system and local harvest conditions-which may reflect black and gray market activity-were found as having a positive and statistically significant effect on height outcomes. Furthermore, from a biological point of view, males and older birth cohorts seem to have suffered more during the famine of the 1990s.

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