For years health officials have thrown money at ways to prevent young children from dying, with little global data on effectiveness. Recently a pattern has emerged: mortality drops in proportion to the years of schooling that women attain. The relation holds true for rich countries and poor, as seen above in each rising line. Whether education rises from high levels (say, 10 years to 11) or low levels (from one year to two), child mortality drops (the lines get thinner). As a global average, education accounts for 51 percent of the decline in mortality—the biggest influence by far—according to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Educated women, it seems, make wiser choices about hygiene, nutrition, immunization and contraception.

— Mark Fischetti


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Credit: Graphic by Joshua Korenblat and Jen Christiansen