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Education or wealth: which matters more for reducing child mortality in developing countries?

Regina Fuchs, Elsie Pamuk and Wolfgang Lutz

Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 2010, vol. 8, issue 1, 175-199

Abstract: This article systematically addresses mother’s education as a fundamental determinant of child mortality in developing countries. The main proposition is that setting the right policy priorities in developing countries requires distinguishing between the role of education and that of material resources in influencing child survival. Despite a tendency to regard both education and economic resources as interchangeable indicators of socioeconomic status, determining their relative importance with respect to child health is important because policies for enhancing one or the other can be quite different. We begin with a comprehensive review of the literature addressing the different causal mechanisms through which maternal education impacts on the health of her offspring. We include better maternal health, increased health-specific knowledge, adoption of non-traditional behaviours, and general female empowerment in addition to the effects of greater economic resources gained as a consequence of education. We use recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data for developing countries and examine the associations between survival of the youngest child over the first year of life, the mother’s educational attainment and the DHS indicator of household wealth both descriptively and using multivariate models. The results show that in the vast majority of countries and under virtually all models mother’s education matters more for infant survival than household wealth. Our findings challenge frequently held views and suggest a reorientation of global health policies to more directly address increasing female education as a primary policy option for improving child health.

Date: 2010
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