Child Health and Parents’ Education

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the evidence about the associations between child health outcomes and mothers’ (or parents’) education? Does education have an impact on child survival and where are published papers about this? How much education delivers what kind of impact?  What is the nature of the difference (for example, better preventive management of children in the home, improved income, strengthened decision-making about seeking care, adherence to treatment etc.)?


This review shows that there is evidence of an association between child health outcomes and parents’ education.  This relationship is particularly pronounced when considering the impact of maternal education. Section 2 presents some key papers showing this relationship, including one recent paper arguing that of the 8·2 million fewer deaths in children under 5 between 1970 and 2009, 51·2% could be attributed to increased educational attainment in women of reproductive age.

Section 3 includes further published papers evidencing this association. Many indicate that maternal education is closely related to child health measured either by nutritional status, child height, weight for age or by infant and child mortality. The effect of father’s education on infant and child mortality appears to be smaller, and some papers claim the effect is about one half that of mother’s education.

The level of education a mother needs to have an impact on their child’s health is shown in Section 4. It has been shown that even one to three years of maternal schooling is associated with a large reduction in the risks of childhood death. The relationship between length of mothers’ schooling and child survival is essentially linear and has no threshold; on average a rise of one year of maternal schooling is associated with a 6-9% decline in under-five mortality.

Research showing the ways that education makes a difference is presented in Section 5. This includes the ability to acquire and understand information on the prevention and cure of childhood diseases, greater decision making power for women and improved hygiene. Additionally more highly educated people are more likely to use curative and preventive services, for example immunisation.

Section 6 includes other papers which have argued that the association is considerably less than what is expected. However, there is more published evidence showing a strong association between parents’ education and child health and mortality than papers arguing against this relationship.  Additionally, Section 7 includes a list of further recommended references.

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