Each additional year of schooling that a country's women attain cuts by nearly 10 percent the children who will die before age 5, according to a new study in this month's issue of the British health journal The Lancet.
That makes educational attainment a better predictor of a nation's child mortality than even economic growth.
The report, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Seattle, and paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, tracked the highest education attained in 219 industrialized and developing countries between 1970 and 2009, and compared that data to the countries' child mortality rates.
Researchers found the mean years of education for women of childbearing years, ages 15 to 44, increased from 2.2 years to 7.2 years during that time. (For perspective, the mean years of schooling for American women rose from 11 years &mdash just under high school graduation &mdash in 1970 to 13.7 years in 2009.)
The study found that 8.2 million fewer children died before age 5 in 2009 than in 1970. Researchers attribute more than half of that drop to higher educational attainment of women in their reproductive years. Specifically, researchers found that for every year of additional education reached by these women, the mortality rate for children dropped by 9.5 percent.
This is a pretty meaty report, complete with tables and maps of growth in education by country, so I'll end on one small note.
Afghanistan, where we have spent billions of dollars fighting a war for nearly a decade, has one of the lowest rates of educational attainment in the world: Afghan women on average have just 3.6 months of education—the sum of all their educational growth in nearly 40 years—and education for men is only 2.6 years. Could this be additional evidence of preventative medicine being cheaper than the cure?