The idea that education should help women to become better mothers first gained wide acceptance in 19th-century Europe and America. As schooling expanded worldwide during the late 20th century, international demographic surveillance programs were launched, permitting assessment of the intergenerational effects of education.

Survey data show that higher levels of mothers' schooling are associated with delayed onset of childbearing, fewer lifetime births, decreased child mortality risks, and improvements in children's educational attainment. In most settings, these associations are stronger for mothers' than for fathers' schooling. There is continuing debate, however, as to whether these relationships are causal. Proponents of causal mechanisms draw upon theories of human capital, women's empowerment, and bureaucratization; opponents view schooling as a dimension of socioeconomic status and emphasize the influence of ...

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