Mother’s Primary Education, Literacy Skills, and Infant Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Emily Smith-Greenaway, Pennsylvania State University

Mothers’ formal schooling—even at the primary level—is associated with lower infant mortality. It remains unclear why this is the case. This study focuses on one mechanism that has received limited attention in demography: reading skills. Using DHS data for 30 African countries, the current study clarifies whether mothers’ reading skills mediate the infant survival benefit of mothers’ primary education. The paper also determines whether living in a setting with higher female literacy benefits infant's survival above and beyond their own mothers’ reading skills, and/or moderates the protective effect of having a mother who can read. Multilevel discrete-time hazard model results show that mothers’ reading skills fully explain the association between mothers’ primary education and infant survival. Moreover, living in a province with higher female literacy increases infant survival across all families. The results from this paper will further establish literacy as a fruitful line of inquiry in population research.

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Presented in Poster Session 3: Health of Women, Children, and Families