Objective: To examine relationships between gender, literacy and survival among adults in Meskan and Mareko district, Ethiopia.
Methods: On the basis of an established demographic surveillance system, an open-cohort analysis of 172726 person-years covering the period January 1987 to December 1996 was conducted in 10 randomly selected local communities.
Findings: The crude mortality rate was 11.2 per 1000 person-years among adults aged > or =15 years; the values for males and females were 11.9 and 10.6 per 1000 person-years, respectively. Kaplan - Meier estimates showed that literacy and being female were both favourable for survival throughout adulthood. Cox's regression models showed that age, gender, literacy and area (rural lowland, rural highland and urban) were significant factors in survival: younger, female, literate urban dwellers were the most favoured. Gender differences in mortality were small in the rural areas, possibly because of the harsh living conditions and the marginalization of women. Literacy was a more significant factor for survival in the rural areas, where mortality was highest, while gender was more important in the one urban area studied. The levels of literacy were lowest among rural females.
Conclusion: Special attention should be given to raising literacy levels among rural women with a view to improving their survival.