The level of maternal education has been isolated in some studies as the most important factor explaining differences in nutrition and health outcomes of children. However, this association relates to stunting only indirectly, via maternal behaviour (improved care practices and improved ability to benefit from nutrition-sensitive interventions).

We assess the probability of reducing stunting by directly addressing children’s deprivations and combinations thereof, compared to policy interventions that impact maternal education or other determinants of stunting. Our first submission to this year’s ISCI conference thus relates to the conference topic as it 1) focuses on children under age 5 years in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; 2) assesses the state of their wellbeing through empirical applications of theoretical child rights-based frameworks of multidimensional child poverty measurement; 3) tests the relative importance of maternal education in reducing child stunting in the context of maternal education being among the recommended policy intervention to improve the well-being of children; and 4) sets the groundwork for deciphering concrete cross-sectoral policy entry-points for improving children’s conditions to reducing stunting in these 14 countries.

We apply a multidimensional framework to control for deprivations associated with the probability of stunting in fourteen Sub-Saharan African countries, to examine the explanatory power of the achieved level of maternal education on the probability of stunting. We use Demographic and Health survey data for 14 countries: Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Taking children under age 5 as the unit of analysis, we measure the incidence and intensity of children’s deprivations in the dimensions nutrition, health, water, sanitation and housing using UNICEF’s Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis toolbox. Multivariate logistic regression analysis controls for single and multiple deprivation, in addition to other key protective factors of stunting including the short stature of the mother, to determine the effect of maternal education on the probability of stunting.

ISCI conference attendees awaiting our presentation on the role of maternal education in reducing stunting

When controlling for children’s deprivations as well as maternal anthropometry, the effect of maternal education varies across the fourteen analysed countries. A majority of the cases show that maternal education is statistically associated with the deprivation levels of the child, and maternal education at the secondary level is significantly associated with a reduced probability of becoming stunted. However, both the theoretical and the empirical association of the differences in maternal education reveal a more complex relationship when controlling for other crucial determinants.

Controlling for deprivations, maternal education explains part of the probability of child stunting, particularly at secondary or higher levels of completion. Our results point to immediate gaps that need to be addressed in terms of reducing deprivations that directly enable stunting in children and future mothers. Improving nutrition in combination with improving water, sanitation and health conditions will reduce the probability of stunting due in part to better antenatal and postnatal conditions. The role of climate change-related factors in predicting child stunting, controlling for core deprivations, would also be useful to explore given the growing impact of climate change on food security and hence nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.