NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Illiteracy, Infant Deaths And Fertility Rates

December 9, 1998

A new study from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) links literacy rates with declines in infant mortality and reduced fertility rates. Women who can read and write, the theory goes, are in a better position to care for their children. Also, fertility drops sharply as education rises.

Here are some of the highlights of the annual report, "The State of the World's Children 1999."

  • Nearly one-sixth of the 5.9 billion people in the world cannot read or write.
  • Illiteracy rates will steadily grow into the next century because only one out of every four children in the world's poorest nations is in school.
  • More than half those denied education are girls.
  • A 10 percentage point increase in girls' primary enrollment can be expected to decrease infant mortality by 4.1 deaths per 1,000 -- and a similar rise in girls' secondary enrollment by another 5.6 deaths per 1,000.

An overwhelming percentage of illiterates are in high population growth countries like India and Pakistan. In Brazil, illiterate women have an average of 6.5 children, while mothers with secondary-school educations have an average of 2.5 children.

Source: Barbara Crossette, "16 Percent World Illiteracy to Grow, Study Says," New York Times, December 9, 1998.


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