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Child Links Childhood Illness and Gender Gaps in Education

In addition to preventing illness, childhood vaccines may help shrink global gender-based education gaps among older children and teens, according to research published in the July 2017 Pediatrics. Noting that adolescent girls in developing countries often are tasked with child care and domestic chores, authors of the study “Childhood Illness and theGender Gap in Adolescent Education in Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” published online June 26, analyzed 1999-2013 survey data from 41,821 households in 38 developing countries ranging from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Households included in the study had both a girl and boy between ages 11 and 17 in the home, as well as a child under age 5. Researchers determined that girls were 5.08 percent less likely to attend school than boys. This gap increased to 7.77 percent if a younger child (under age 5) had a recent illness; it increased to 8.53 percent if a younger child had two or more illness episodes. The gender gap in schooling was larger in households with a working mother, researchers said.  Increases in child vaccination rates, however, were positively correlated with a significant narrowing of the gap (correlation coefficient of 0.34, probability value of 0.021). The authors say investments in early childhood health may have important effects on school attendance by adolescent girls. This, in turn, could have other benefits linked with secondary school education attainment, such as reduced HIV risk and teen pregnancy rates.


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