Early in the 30-year HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, epidemiological studies identified formal education attainment as a risk factor: educated Sub-Saharan Africans had a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than their less educated peers. Later demographic research reported that by the mid-1990s the education effect had reversed, and education began to function as a social vaccine. Recent counter-evidence finds a curvilinear pattern, with the association between educational attainment and HIV/AIDS infection changing from positive to negative across the education gradient. To reconcile these inconsistent conclusions, a hypothesis is developed and tested that education at early stages functioned as a risk factor and later functioned (and continues to function) as a social vaccine. We reason that this shift in the direction of the education effect was concurrent with changes in the public health environment in SSA that early on heightened material benefits from educational attainment but later heightened cognitive benefits from schooling. Using the 2003/2004 Demographic Health Surveys from four Sub-Saharan African countries (Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania), we tested this hypothesis (differential effects of schooling) using non-linear regression analysis (probit), identifying the different public health periods and controlling for confounding factors. The results support the hypothesis that the education effect shifted historically in the HIV/AIDS pandemic in SSA as we hypothesized.
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