Pathways of equality through education: impact of gender (in)equality and maternal education on exclusive breastfeeding among natives and migrants in Belgium

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Even though breastfeeding is typically considered the preferred feeding method for infants worldwide, in Belgium, breastfeeding rates remain low across native and migrant groups while the underlying determinants are unclear. Furthermore, research examining contextual effects, especially regarding gender (in)equality and ideology, has not been conducted. We hypothesized that greater gender equality scores in the country of origin will result in higher breastfeeding chances. Because gender equality does not operate only at the contextual level but can be mediated through individual level resources, we hypothesized the following for maternal education: higher maternal education will be an important positive predictor for exclusive breastfeeding chances in Belgium, but its effects will differ over subsequent origin countries. Based on IKAROS data (Geïntegreerd Kind Activiteiten en Regio Ondersteunings Systeem), we perform multilevel analyses on 27 936 newborns. Feeding method is indicated by exclusive breastfeeding 3 months after childbirth. We measure gender (in)equality using Global Gender Gap scores from the mother's origin country. Maternal education is a metric variable based on International Standard Classification of Education indicators. Results show that 3.6% of the variation in breastfeeding can be explained by differences between the migrant mother's country of origin. However, the effect of gender (in)equality appears to be non-significant. After adding maternal education, the effect for origin countries scoring low on gender equality turns significant. Maternal education on its own shows strong positive association with exclusive breastfeeding and, furthermore, has different effects for different origin countries. Possible explanations are discussed in-depth setting direction for further research regarding the different pathways gender (in)equality and maternal education affect breastfeeding. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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