Children of well-educated parents more likely to survive first five years of life

TRONDHEIM, Norway — It’s hard to fathom, but an estimated 15,000 children die every single day on a global scale due to preventable causes. According to a new report, however, that number may have more to do with the parent’s education than modern medicine. Researchers in Norway find children born to well-educated parents worldwide are more likely to survive the first five years of life than other youths.

Study authors from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology say their work stresses the importance of ensuring young girls all over the world have access to the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts. While dad’s level of education is important too, the research indicates mom’s level of education has the biggest impact on survival outcomes.

For reference, researchers estimate that around 750 million adults alive today can’t read or write. Those estimates find women make up two-thirds of this group.

One year of extra education for the mother is associated with an approximately three per cent reduction in mortality on average,” says Professor Terje Andreas Eikemo from NTNU’s Department of Sociology and Political Science in a university release.

“The findings provide a strong argument for continuing the effort to ensure that girls complete primary and secondary education, especially now that the pandemic risks setting back progress,” adds first study author Kam Sripada, a neuroscientist at NTNU.

Dad’s education keeps the kids healthy too

Notably, this is also the first study ever to show that the father’s education influences survival rates as well. For every year of schooling a child’s father completes, their child’s risk of dying before their fifth birthday drops by 1.6 percent. Study authors analyzed a total of 300 earlier research projects focusing on these subjects, encompassing data on over three million births.

“We collected all the data and all the articles in all languages that look at parents’ education and the importance of child mortality. Our study reviewed the mortality rates at one month, one year and five years,” Prof. Eikemo explains.

The report states that as a child grows older, their parents’ education actually becomes more important. The more educated the parents, the better off their kids are across various life areas.

“Good health in children’s first five years is important for more than just survival. The brain also develops the fastest in that phase. That’s why it’s crucial to invest in the school system – from the earliest years all the way through higher education. Good conditions can be transferred from one generation to the next, and the opposite is also true,” Sripada comments.

Mom and dad should keep learning

While the child mortality statistics are rather grim, the current global death rate for children under five years-old is actually half of what it was in 1990, thanks to efforts on the local, national, and international scale. Still, over 10 percent of children born in developing nations today pass away before reaching age five. The mean global average is currently just under five percent.

Researchers note the majority of child deaths reported in developing nations are due to several diseases including pneumonia, malaria, and various other infections. Birth complications, malnourishment, and malnutrition also plays a role. As far as how level of education plays into all of this, researchers can’t say for sure but point to a number of causal relationships. For example, more education usually leads to higher income and social status, which often means greater access to healthcare and doctors.

“There may be various factors that explain the findings in our study. Parents’ health literacy, health-seeking behaviors and consanguanity are among the potential links between parents’ education and child mortality,” Sripada says.

The benefit of more education for mom and dad never appears to level off either. Researchers report the more education, the better.

“We didn’t find any flattening where more education means less. Every year of extra education gives an increased chance of survival,” Eikemo concludes. “Rich countries have less infant mortality, but also in these countries it’s linked to parents’ education.”

The study appears in the journal The Lancet.

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