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Educating Mothers Saves Children’s Lives

Child Mortality vs Maternal Education, Nicaragua

It’s perhaps no surprise to find that better-educated mothers do better at improving the health of their children, but it may surprise some to see how much of a difference this can make — and that it matters much more than economic gain.

Child Mortality vs Maternal Education, Nicaragua

Between 1970 and 2009, mortality in children under age 5 dropped from 16 million to 7.8 million annually worldwide. Seattle researchers who studied this phenomenon in 175 countries report today in the Lancet that more than half of this reduction in child mortality (51 percent) can be attributed to improvements in education among women of reproductive age.

To the right is just one of their “scatterplots” for Nicaragua (go to their paper to get more info re the details) showing quite dramatically how child mortality plummets as maternal education rises — even if GDP per capita declines.

“The fact that education had so much more influence on child mortality than did economic growth might surprise people,” said lead author Emmanuela Gakidou, an associate professor of global health at the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Another surprise, Gakidou said, was how much more women had improved in their educational achievements as compared to men in many countries. This dovetails with the general global trend, which includes the U.S., of women advancing more than men when it comes to education.

“In 87 countries, in 2009, we found that young women had achieved higher levels of education than men,” she said. This is not true everywhere, she said, noting that in six countries — Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Yemen — women still average only a single year of education.

Here are some other news articles about this study:

AP: Educating Women Saves Millions of Kids

Washington Post: Mom’s Education Connected to Child Mortality (yeah, lazy headline …)

Guardian: Save Children’s Lives — Educate Women


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.