Improving Women’s Education Improves Maternal Health: Evidence from Peru
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Maternal mortality in Peru declined over 70 percent between 1990 and 2015, from approximately 250 deaths per 100,000 live births to 70 deaths per 100,000 live births. Women’s education levels simultaneously rose over the same period. This brief indicates that Peruvian women’s rising education levels contributed to falling maternal mortality rates by reducing the risk of maternal complications and increasing the use of modern contraception and reproductive healthcare. More education also led to an increase in economic resources and autonomy over healthcare decisions. Women’s education—by providing improved cognitive skills, greater economic resources, and greater autonomy—is theorized to protect maternal health through two main mechanisms. First, education influences fertility practices, such as contraceptive use and extending birth intervals, that minimize the risk of pregnancy complications as a result of unwanted pregnancies and short intervals between births. Second, education increases women’s access to and use of healthcare during pregnancy and at the time of delivery, when health conditions can be detected and treated to improve pregnancy outcomes. In 1993, the Peruvian government raised compulsory schooling from six to eleven years. Taking advantage of this policy change, instrumented regression discontinuity models were employed to compare women who were just above the age cutoff and had already completed their required education in 1993 to those who were just below the age cutoff and were therefore required to continue their schooling. These women were interviewed during one of the Peruvian Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) that took place between 2003 and 2009, when they were 23 to 30 years old.