Free Markets and Dead Mothers: The Social Ecology of Maternal Mortality in Post-Socialist Mongolia


Beginning in 1990, Mongolia, a former client state of what was then the Soviet Union, undertook liberal economic reforms. These came as a great shock to Mongolia and Mongolians, and resulted in food shortages, reports of famine, widespread unemployment, and a collapse of public health and health care. Although economic conditions have stabilized in recent years, unemployment and poverty are still at disturbingly high levels. One important consequence of the transition has been the transformation of the rural, primarily pastoral, economy. With de-collectivization, herding households have been thrown into a highly insecure subsistence mode of production, and, as a consequence, have become vulnerable to local fluctuations in rainfall and availability and quality of forage, and many now lack access to traded staples and essential commodities. Household food insecurity, malnutrition, and migration of impoverished households to provincial centers and the capital of Ulaanbaatar are one result. Reductions to investments in the health sector have also eroded the quality of services in rural areas, and restricted access to those services still functioning. Evidence suggests that women are particularly vulnerable to these political-ecological changes, and that this vulnerability is manifested in increasing rates of poor reproductive health and maternal mortality. Drawing on case-study ethnographic and epidemiological data, this article explores the links between neoliberal economic reform and maternal mortality in Mongolia.

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