Rural–Urban Child Height for Age Trajectories and Their Heterogeneous Determinants in Four Developing Countries

Access to services
Nutrition, health and well-being
Stunting and catch-up growth
Journal Article

The large literature on health differentials between rural and urban areas relies almost exclusively on cross-sectional data. Bringing together the demographic literature on area-level health inequalities with the bio-physiological literature on children’s catch-up growth over time, this paper uses panel data to investigate the stability and origins of rural–urban health differentials. Using data from the Young Lives longitudinal study of child poverty, the author presents evidence of large level differences but similar trends in rural versus urban children’s height for age in four developing countries.

Further, observable characteristics of children’s environment such as their household wealth, mother’s education, and epidemiological environment explain these differentials in most contexts. In Peru, where they do not, children’s birthweight and mothers’ health and other characteristics suggest that initial endowments—even before birth—may play an important role in explaining "residual" rural–urban child height inequalities. These latter results imply that prioritizing maternal nutrition and health is essential—particularly where rural–urban height inequalities are large. Interventions to reduce area-level health inequalities should begin even before birth.

Keywords

Health inequalities, area-level health differentials, early life health.

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