The more gender equity, the less child poverty? A multilevel analysis of malnutrition and health deprivation in 49 low- and middle-income countries

Elsevier, World Development, Volume 108, August 2018, Pages 221-230.
Authors: 
Hans Ekbrand and Björn Halleröd

Mothers are often perceived as key agents in safeguarding the interests of children. If the assumption that women, given the opportunity, are more likely than men to see to the interests of children is true, children can be expected to be less exposed to severe forms of deprivation in countries where women have a relatively strong position in society.

The hypotheses that fewer children are exposed to health deprivation and to severe forms of food deprivation in countries where there is a high degree of gender equity are tested.

A combination of country-level data and micro-level survey data, makes it possible to analyze whether and to what degree gender equity in a country only benefits children of mothers who have been able to take advantage of a high degree of gender equity or if it also benefits children of less resourceful mothers. The analysis is based on a combination of macro- and micro-data (N = 391,817) from 49 low- and middle-income countries to analyze the relationship between gender equity and malnutrition, and gender equity and health deprivation among children.

The results indicate that gender equity in education and employment decreases child malnutrition, and that women’s empowerment decreases health deprivation for children with unschooled mothers.

The results support the notion that women are instrumental in children’s welfare. Even when we control for a whole range of both country-level and individual-level factors, gender equity at the country-level still comes out as an important determinant of children’s nutrition and access to health care. Thus, strengthening women’s position is important if we wish to improve children’s living conditions.