"We are not sure we can generalize these findings; however, at [a] country level, the highest gender inequality led to more girls dying," said lead researcher Valentina Gallo, professor of epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London's Centre for Primary Care and Public Health. "These girls are also further exposed to this risk via their mothers, who may themselves be penalized and valued less than mothers of sons and less able to provide for their daughters."
The research looked at sex-specific child mortality rates in 195 countries via UNICEF's database of child mortality worldwide and the UN's Gender Inequality Index. And the results found that girls have a statistical advantage over boys when it comes to survival, but in sexist societies that value boys more than girls, the advantage is reduced, and girls are actually dying.
"It is surprising that [gender inequality] is so strongly associated with mortality — there is something going on that makes girls severely more discriminated than boys in many regions in the world," Gallo said.
What's going on includes unsafe practices such as female genital mutilation and reduced access to basic health care. For example, girls are vaccinated at lower rates than boys.
This isn't the first time that research has suggested a correlation between infant and child mortality and gender discrimination, but this is the first study to examine how girls and boys are impacted separately. The researchers also noted that the many studies surrounding this topic report disproportionately fewer female deaths, as families in some countries are less likely to record female deaths.
Meanwhile, in countries where there's more gender equality, there's actually been economic growth, among other benefits. For example, a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) credited gender equality with boosting economic growth in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden over the past 50 years. The report, “Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries,” looked into the impact of family-friendly policies implemented across the Nordic region since the 1960s. And it found that gains in gender equality as a result of implementing these policies are tied to boosting region’s GDP per capita between 10 and 20 percent.
Scientists suggest that more research needs to be done; however, the common theme hasn't yet wavered: Gender inequality is dangerous, while gender equality leads to better outcomes for everyone.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,