The Effect of Maternal Education on Gender Bias in Care-Seeking for Common Childhood Illnesses

Gautam Bhan, N Bhandari, S Taneja, S Mazumder, R Bahl  | February 2005


This paper assessed gender bias within hospitalisation rates to ascertain whether differential care-seeking practices significantly contribute to excess female mortality. It then examined the impact of socio-economic factors, particularly maternal education and economic status, on gender bias. The results find both the clear and significant impact of gender on hospitalisation rates, as well as the simultaneous inability of rising education and economic status to alleviate this bias. A secondary analysis was conducted within a uniquely large and ongoing randomised control trial that sought to measure the impact of Zinc supplementation on hospitalisations and deaths in low-income communities in New Delhi, India. During the course of the study, 85,633 children were enrolled and monitored over one year of follow-up. Of the 430 deaths that occurred, 230 were female (0.57 per cent of total females), while 200 were male (0.43 per cent of all males). Despite this higher mortality amongst females (p<0.02), girls were hospitalised far less frequently than boys. Of the 4,418 children who were hospitalised at least once, 2,854 (64.6%) were males and only 1,564 (35.4%) were females, indicating a significantly lower rate of care-seeking for females (p<0.00). Curiously, our results show that gender bias is highest amongst highly educated mothers, and decreases steadily for children of mothers with a middle school education, a primary school education, and is lowest amongst mothers with no formal education. Put differently, female children of mothers with no formal education were significantly more likely to be hospitalised than children of mothers with several years of formal education, even after adjusting for all other factors. Economic status was not found to affect the association of gender and hospitalisation, though overall odds of hospitalisation rose with increasing economic status. Paternal education was found not to be significantly related to hospitalisation.