The rural-urban gap in infant mortality rates is explained using a new decomposition method that permits identification of the ontribution of unobserved heterogeneity at the household and the community level. Using Demographic and Health Survey data for six Francophone countries in Western Sub-Saharan Africa, we find that differences in the distributions of factors that determine mortality – not differences in their effects – explain almost the entire gap. Higher infant mortality rates in rural areas mainly derive from the rural disadvantage in household level characteristics; both observed and unobserved, which explain three-quarters of the gap. Among the observed characteristics, household environmental factors—potable water, electricity and quality of housing materials—are the most important contributors explaining 38% of the gap. Unobserved household level determinants explain 10% of the gap. Community level determinants explain 13% of the gap, including 3% that is due to unobservable community level heterogeneity.

Sub-Saharan Africa, decomposition, infant mortality, rural-urban inequality, unobserved heterogeneity
Health Production: Nutrition, Mortality, Morbidity, Substance Abuse and Addiction, Disability, and Economic Behavior (jel I12), General Welfare; Basic Needs; Living Standards; Quality of Life; Happiness (jel I31), Asia including Middle East (jel O53)
Tinbergen Institute
Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper Series
Discussion paper / Tinbergen Institute
Tinbergen Institute

Van de Poel, E, O'Donnell, O.A, & van Doorslaer, E.K.A. (2007). What explains the Rural-Urban Gap in Infant Mortality — Household or Community Characteristics? (No. TI 07-067/3). Discussion paper / Tinbergen Institute. Tinbergen Institute. Retrieved from