The apparent impact of women’s school attainment on child mortality in the developing world has been repeatedly suggested by studies since 1979, most recently and definitively by the IHME research group in its 2010 article in The Lancet. But what are the pathways through which the mass schooling of women is translated into demographic outcomes? These have remained mysterious, matters of speculation rather than empirical research, for more than 30 years. Our recent book, Literacy and Mothering: How Women’s Schooling Changes the Lives of the World’s Children (2012, Oxford University Press), builds and tests a detailed, evidence-based model of the processes through which a causal influence of schooling on child mortality, fertility, and other child outcomes might be taking place. In the seminar I will present a summary of the theory and findings from our quantitative assessments of mothers’ literacy and academic language skills, as well as health literacy and health navigation skills, in four countries – Mexico, Nepal, Venezuela, and Zambia. I hope to engage demographic and health researchers in a discussion of what more needs to be done to resolve the remaining issues concerning school effects.


Robert A. LeVine is an anthropologist and interdisciplinary social scientist who has specialized in the cross-cultural study of parenting, child development, and psychosocial processes in research spanning more than half a century. The book on literacy is the principal outcome of the Project on Maternal Schooling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; it has recently won the 2013 Eleanor Maccoby Award in Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Previous publications by LeVine and his colleagues include Anthropology and Child Development: A Cross-Cultural Reader (2008); Child Care and Culture: Lessons from Africa (1994), a longitudinal study of infants and their parents among the Gusii people of Kenya; and “Women’s Schooling and Child Care in the Demographic Transition: A Mexican Case Study,” Population and Development Review 17: 459-496. His research group at Harvard was the primary training base for anthropologists studying child development during the last three decades of the 20th century. In 2001 LeVine received the American Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Contributions Award and in 1997 the Career Contributions Award from the Society for Psychological Anthropology. He was chairman of the Social Science Research Council from 1980 to 1983.