The single biggest factor, by far, in reducing the rate of death among children younger than five is greater education for women. In all countries worldwide, whether females increase schooling from 10 years to 11, say, or two years to three, infant mortality declines, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Women with more education tend to have smaller families, in part because of increased employment opportunities and better knowledge about contraception; fewer children in a family improves the chances that an infant will survive. More education also helps women make better decisions about many health and disease factors such as prenatal care, basic hygiene, nutrition and immunization—which are vital to reducing the leading causes of death in children under five, shown below.

— Mark Fischetti

Cause of death Percent of deaths
Neonatal* 41
Other 16
Diarrhea 14
Pneumonia 14
Malaria 8
Injuries 3
Measles 1

*Preterm birth complications (12 percent), birth asphyxia (9 percent), sepsis (6 percent), other (5 percent), pneumonia (4 percent), congenital (3 percent), diarrhea (1 percent), tetanus (1 percent)

Source (data): World Health Organization, UNICEF