If the findings of a new study conducted by researchers at the Cambridge University in UK are anything to go by, the health of poor people in India is impacted to a greater extent by literacy than by average income.

The findings of the study are thus in direct contravention of the popular belief in countries like India where government policies are aimed at improving the well being of citizens through increasing their incomes.

Policies Should Focus on Literacy
“Economic policies narrowly focused on growth are insufficient when it comes to public health in less developed countries,” said Lawrence King, Professor of Sociology and Political Economy and co-author of the study.

“Higher average income is a statistical red herring: it contributes to better public health mainly to the extent that it reflects high literacy and low poverty,” King said, referring to the importance of maintaining high literacy levels.

Research Methodology
The latest study was conducted on data pertaining to 500 districts spanning across India’s major states. For the purpose of the study, researchers used data on income, education and mortality among infants and children aged below five years of age.

The study has unequivocally established that poverty and illiteracy are more significant indicators of poor public health than low average income. Thus a poor district in India can enjoy better public health if it has high literacy levels.

Mathematical models used by researchers revealed that the poverty gap in a particular district would have to be reduced by one-fourth (or 25 percent) to save one life per thousand live births. The same result could be achieved by increasing the literacy rate by merely 4 percent.

The reasons are not too far to seek. High levels of literacy enable the population to access healthcare at the right time, understand the importance of labeling and also engage in public health welfare programs.

“Since our models account for differences in individual income and district average income, this is tentative evidence for the psychological and social effects of inequality in a poor country,” said Keertichandra Rajan, another co-author of the study

“Even if inequality does not lead to more children dying in India, it may generate individual stress and fray social bonds enough to undermine societal well-being,” added Rajan.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal ‘Social Science and Medicine’

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