, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 1551–1561 | Cite as

Maternal Reading Skills and Child Mortality in Nigeria: A Reassessment of Why Education Matters

  • Emily Smith-Greenaway


Mother’s formal schooling—even at the primary level—is associated with lower risk of child mortality, although the reasons why remain unclear. This study examines whether mother’s reading skills help to explain the association in Nigeria. Using data from the Demographic and Health Survey, the analysis demonstrates that women’s reading skills increase linearly with years of primary school; however, many women with several years of formal school are unable to read at all. The results further show that mother’s reading skills help to explain the relationship between mother’s formal schooling and child mortality, and that mother’s reading skills are highly associated with child mortality. The study highlights the need for more data on literacy and for more research on whether and how mother’s reading skills lower child mortality in other contexts.


Maternal education Reading skills Child mortality Nigeria 



A previous version of this article was presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Dallas, Texas. I thank Jenny Trinitapoli and Michelle Frisco for their mentoring as I prepared this manuscript; and I thank three anonymous reviewers, Lauren Bachan, David Baker, Adam Lippert, and Molly Martin for their comments on earlier versions. I also acknowledge the support of the Predoctoral Traineeship in Family Demography (No. T-32HD 007514) by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Pennsylvania State University Population Research Institute and assistance provided by the Population Research Center at Penn State University, which is supported by an infrastructure grant by the National Institutes of Health (R-24HD041025).


  1. Abadzi, H., Crouch, L., Echegaray, M., Pasco, C., & Sampe, J. (2005). Monitoring basic skills acquisition through rapid learning assessments: A case study from Perú. Prospects, 35, 137–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adekola, O. A. (2007). Language, literacy and learning in primary schools: Implications for teacher development programs in Nigeria. Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker, D. P., Leon, J., Smith Greenaway, E. G., Collins, J., & Movit, M. (2011). The education effect on population health: A reassessment. Population and Development Review, 37, 307–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Glewwe, P. (1999). Why does mother’s schooling raise child health in developing countries? Evidence from Morocco. Journal of Human Resources, 34, 124–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. LeVine, R. A., & LeVine, S. E. (2001). The schooling of women: Maternal behavior and child environments. Ethos, 29, 259–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. LeVine, R. A., LeVine, S. E., Rowe, M. L., & Schnell-Anzola, B. (2004). Maternal literacy and health behavior: A Nepalese case study. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 863–877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. LeVine, R. A., LeVine, S., Schnell-Anzola, B., Rowe, M. L., & Dexter, E. (2012). Literacy and mothering: How women’s schooling changes the lives of the world’s children. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Mosley, W. H., & Chen, L. C. (1984). An analytical framework for the study of child survival in developing countries. Population and Development Review, 10, 25–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Nicolopoulou, A., & Cole, M. (1999). Literacy and cognition. In D. A. Wagner, R. L. Venezky, & B. V. Street (Eds.), Literacy: An international handbook (pp. 81–86). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  10. National Population Commission (NPC) [Nigeria] and ORC Macro. (2004). Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2003. Calverton, MD: National Population Commission and ORC Macro.Google Scholar
  11. Royston, P. (2004). Multiple imputation of missing values. The Stata Journal, 4, 227–241.Google Scholar
  12. Schnell-Anzola, B., Rowe, M. L., & LeVine, R. A. (2005). Literacy as a pathway between schooling and health-related communication skills: A study of Venezuelan mothers. International Journal of Educational Development, 25, 19–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Thomas, D. (1999). Fertility, education, and resources in South Africa. In C. H. Bledsoe, J. B. Casterline, J. A. Johnson-Kuhn, & J. G. Haaga (Eds.), Critical perspectives on schooling and fertility in the developing world (pp. 138–180). Washington, DC: National Acadmies Press.Google Scholar
  14. Uhry, J. K., & Ehri, L. C. (1999). Ease of segmenting two- and three-phoneme words in kindergarten: Rime cohesion or vowel salience? Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 594–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. You, D., Jones, G., & Wardlaw, T. (2010). Levels and trends in child mortality. New York: United Nations Children's Fund.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology and DemographyPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations