The North Korean Famine and Its Demographic Impact



The North Korean famine began in 1995 and its ill effects, while peaking in the late 1990s,undoubtedly linger. Recent conjectures on excess deaths caused by the famine range widely from about 200,000 to 3 million or more. This article assesses the demographic impact of the famine with greater rigor than has previously been attempted and describes the unique setting in which the famine occurred. The analysis begins with a pair of population projections based on mortality statistics from two sources. Given their contradictory implications, the analysis turns to less direct evidence of famine-related mortality. That evidence includes China's demographic experience during the Great Leap Forward and recent measurements of child malnutrition in North Korea. Crosscountry comparisons translate this malnutrition into corresponding levels of infant mortality. The article concludes that famine-related deaths in North Korea from 1995 to 2000 most likely numbered between 600,000 and 1 million.