Protestantism and Child Mortality in Northeast Brazil, 2000

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The recent growth of Pentecostal Protestantism in Latin America has called attention to the social consequences of religious conversion. Ethnographic studies find that affiliation with Pentecostal churches is associated with attitudinal and behavioral transformations that modify gender relations, enhance the economic viability of the household, and endow families with social capital that can be mobilized during periods of economic stress, sickness, and emergency. The nature of the changes suggests that they may improve the welfare of infants and young children within the family. To explore this proposition, we use sample data from the 2000 demographic census in the Brazilian northeast to estimate the probability of death among children born to women 20 to 34 years of age. The findings show that, other things being equal, the death rate among children born to Protestant women is around 10 percent lower compared to the death rate among children born to Catholic women. We further disaggregate Protestants into “traditional” (e.g., Baptist, Presbyterian) and “Pentecostal” (e.g., Assembly of God) subgroups, and show that the mortality-reducing effect is greater among historical compared to Pentecostal Protestants. No mortality effects were associated with membership in neo-Pentecostal churches.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Charles Wood is a member and former Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville. 2: Philip Williams is a Professor of Political Science and Chair of the UF Department of Political Science., Email: 3: Kuniko Chijiwa is a graduate student in the UF Department of Sociology., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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