Better education for women helped prevent more than four million children from dying last year, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at censuses and national surveys from 219 countries and found that women of 25 and older have seen their years in education more than double since 1970, according to an article in The Lancet medical journal.
And with women being in education for a longer amount of time, the yearly number of children aged under-five dying fell from 16 million to 7.8 million, the study said.
At least half of the fall in child deaths was because of women being more educated, said the University of Washington researchers, who were led by Emmanuela Gakidou. That means 4.2 million fewer deaths, they said.
“We know that direct health interventions, such as immunizations, preventive care and hygiene classes, are crucial to improving health worldwide,” Gakidou told Bloomberg news wire. “What this study shows is that by focusing on education as well, we can increase the impact that we are having on health.”
Dr. Christopher Murray, who co-wrote the report, said: “More education helps mothers make better choices in a range of areas - personal hygiene, nutrition, parenting approaches. It also helps them take better care of their own health when pregnant, and, after the child is born, they are able to navigate the expanding array of health services being offered to their families.
For this reason, the researchers believe advances in global health - including vaccines, antibiotics, and medical devices - will be accepted and adopted more quickly by mothers who are better educated.
Educated girls and women are less vulnerable to HIV infection, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, are more likely to marry later, raise fewer children who are more likely to go to school, and make important contributions to family income.
Education for both women and men in developing countries has improved since 1970, the report found. Women who were 25 or older now get an average seven years in school, which is up from three and a half years, the study found, while men had 8 years of schooling, up from 5 years in 1970.
In some countries, however, women still receive no more than one year of schooling. Those countries include Burkina Faso, Yemen, Niger, Chad, Mali and Afghanistan.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation paid for the research.