Scarring and Selection in the Great Irish Famine

Matthias Blum, Christopher L. Colvin*, Eoin McLaughlin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paper


What is the health impact of catastrophic risks on survivors? We use a population exposed to severe famine conditions during infancy to document two opposing effects. The first: exposure leads to poor health into adulthood, a scarring effect. The second: survivors do not themselves suffer health consequences, a selection effect. Anthropometric evidence on over 21,000 subjects born before, during and after the Great Irish Famine (1845-52), among modern history’s most severe famines, suggests selection is strongest where mortality is highest. Individuals born in heavily-affected areas experienced no measurable stunted growth, while scarring was found among those born where excess mortality was low.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationmedRxiv
PublisherCold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Publication series

NameQUCEH Working Paper Series
PublisherQueen's University Belfast


  • catastrophic risk
  • famine
  • fetal origins hypothesis
  • anthropometrics
  • economic history
  • Ireland


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