Childhood Illness and the Gender Gap in Adolescent Education in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

July 2017, VOLUME 140 / ISSUE 1

Childhood Illness and the Gender Gap in Adolescent Education in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Marcella Alsan, Anlu Xing, Paul Wise, Gary L. Darmstadt, Eran Bendavid
Pediatrics Jul 2017, 140 (1) e20163175; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-3175
BACKGROUND: Achieving gender equality in education is an important development goal. We tested the hypothesis that the gender gap in adolescent education is accentuated by illnesses among young children in the household.
METHODS: Using Demographic and Health Surveys on 41,821 households in 38 low- and middle-income countries, we used linear regression to estimate the difference in the probability adolescent girls and boys were in school, and how this gap responded to illness episodes among children <5 years old. To test the hypothesis that investments in child health are related to the gender gap in education, we assessed the relationship between the gender gap and national immunization coverage.
RESULTS: In our sample of 120,708 adolescent boys and girls residing in 38 countries, girls were 5.08% less likely to attend school than boys in the absence of a recent illness among young children within the same household (95% confidence interval [CI], 5.50%–4.65%). This gap increased to 7.77% (95% CI, 8.24%–7.30%) and 8.53% (95% CI, 9.32%–7.74%) if the household reported 1 and 2 or more illness episodes, respectively. The gender gap in schooling in response to illness was larger in households with a working mother. Increases in child vaccination rates were associated with a closing of the gender gap in schooling (correlation coefficient=0.34, P=.02).
CONCLUSIONS: Illnesses among children strongly predict a widening of the gender gap in education. Investments in early childhood health may have important effects on schooling attainment for adolescent girls.

…In our analysis of vaccination rates relative to the education gap, we found a statistically significant and strong negative correlation between the vaccination rates of children <5 years old and the gender gap in education (eg, the higher the vaccination rate, the smaller the gender gap in education; correlation coefficient=0.34, P=.02; Fig 4). The adolescent gender gap in education approaches zero with coverage rates exceeding ∼70% for all 8 vaccines. We performed several specification checks to ensure that our results are robust. These include varying the age of the included older children, using alternative educational outcomes, and splitting the sample by rural and urban location. We describe these supplementary changes in detail. In Supplemental Fig 5, we varied the age thresholds for older children in the following different ways: 10 to 16, 10 to 17, 10 to 18, 11 to 16, 12 to 16, 12 to 17, and 12 to 18. Our results are not sensitive to varying the thresholds….