Traditional Beliefs and Learning About Maternal Risk in Zambia

Monday, May 8, 2017
Nava Ashraf
Erica Field
Giuditta Rusconi
Alessandra Voena
Roberta Ziparo


Maternal mortality remains very high in many parts of the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. While maternal deaths are observable, it may not be straightforward for individuals to learn about risk factors. This paper utilizes novel data on male and female perceptions of maternal risk in Zambia to document that superstitions about causes of maternal mortality are pervasive and to uncover evidence that such beliefs impede learning about maternal health risk levels and correlates. In our data, people who hold traditional beliefs disregard past birth complications completely in assessing future risk, unlike those who hold modern beliefs.


Ashraf, Nava, Erica Field, Giuditta Rusconi, Alessandra Voena, and Roberta Ziparo. 2017. "Traditional Beliefs and Learning about Maternal Risk in Zambia." American Economic Review, 107(5): 511-15.