, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 71-81

Maternal education and child health: Is there a strong causal relationship?

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Abstract

Using data from the first round of Demographic and Health Surveys for 22 developing countries, we examine the effect of maternal education on three markers of child health: infant mortality, children s height-for-age, and immunization status. In contrast to other studies, we argue that although there is a strong correlation between maternal education and markers of child health, a causal relationship is far from established. Education acts as a proxy for the socioeconomic status of the family and geographic area of residence. Introducing controls for husband’s education and access to piped water and toilet attenuate the impact of maternal education on infant mortality and children’s height-for-age. This effect is further reduced by controlling for area of residence through the use of fixed-effects models. In the final model. maternal education has a statistically significant impact on infant mortality and height-forage in only a handful of countries. In contrast. maternal education remains statistically significant for chidren’s immunization status in about one-half of the countries even after individual-level and community-level controls are introduced.

This research was supported in part by funds from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to the Center on Population, Gender and Social Inequality, including a traineeship for Soumya Alva. We thank Karen Mason, Susheela Singh, and Joan Kahn for comments on an early draft.