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Education provides a path to reduced child mortality, new CHAIN-IHME study finds

11 June, 2021
Graph showing reduced child mortality

A comprehensive analysis has found that each year of parental education is associated with lower risks of childhood mortality. Published today in The Lancet, the study is the largest to date to examine the relationship between mothers’ and fathers’ education and child mortality on a global scale. Parental education and inequalities in child mortality: A global systematic review and meta-analysis was led by the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research (CHAIN) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). 

Lower education of mothers and fathers was found to be a risk factor for mortality of children under the age of five. This finding holds even after controlling for wealth or income, parents’ partner’s years of schooling, and sex of the child.

The meta-analysis found that each additional year of fathers’ and mothers’ schooling is linked to a reduction in under-5 mortality of 1.6% and 3.0% respectively. Over 12 years of a parent’s education, these effects accumulate to a 17.3% decreased child mortality related to paternal education and a 31% decrease linked to maternal education. To visualise these findings, a factsheet capturing the most important findings of the study was produced by CHAIN and its partner EuroHealthNet. A video was also produced by NTNU.

“Further reductions in child mortality are needed and investments in education may be key to achieving this. It is time that education is put on to the international policy agenda as a global determinant of child survival”, said CHAIN leader, Professor Terje Andreas Eikemo.

The study is ground-breaking because it includes the under-examined effects of paternal education, and goes beyond examining the neonatal period to include six age intervals until the age of five. By including 300 studies in 92 countries, capturing over 3,000,000 live births, the review also exceeded previous studies in scale, geographic scope, and comprehensiveness.

“The world is closer than ever to having all children complete primary school, yet over 750 million adults today cannot read or write,” said Kam Sripada, one of the study’s lead authors. “Our latest research linking education and child survival shows yet another benefit of schooling. We urge governments to close the achievement gaps starting in the early years and through higher education, to support both this generation and the next.”

Education may provide a way to improve the health of future generations and promote sustainable development, based on the study’s findings. The parent-child link between health and education underscores the importance of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all with universal quality education across the life-course. Education is an important determinant of health. The research team calls on leaders to frame investments in education as contributors to better health for all.


Read the study here.

Read the factsheet here.



CHAIN is the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research, which brings together researchers from all global regions and different research disciplines to advance the current state-of-the-art. It does this by offering new insights from social, laboratory-based and natural experiments into the causal mechanisms linking socioeconomic status and health. It brings together academia, the UN system, civil society and the private sector in a common organisational body to reduce the distance between research, policy and practice.

EuroHealthNet is a partner in CHAIN’s Global Health Inequalities project (2019-2025), which aspires to make CHAIN a world-leading centre and research network for the international study of global health inequalities.

More information and outputs

For more information on CHAIN and its outputs, click here.

IHME – Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

IHME is an independent population health research center at UW Medicine, part of the University of Washington, that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information freely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve population health.

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