Infant Mortality in the US and Europe

Emily Oster, Assistant Professor, Chicago Booth, will present "Infant Mortality in the US and Europe" on Thursday, January 17, as part of this year's Demography Workshop.

In 2005, the US infant mortality rate (IMR) ranked 30th internationally - comparable to Slovakia. The determinants of this US IMR disadvantage are not well understood, hindering policy efforts to address the gap. In this paper, we combine the well-used US natality micro-data with similar data from Austria and Finland in order to investigate the US IMR disadvantage. We first document two striking new facts. First, the US has an enormous disadvantage in post-neonatal mortality (deaths after the first month of life): the post-neonatal mortality gap accounts for as much or more of the US IMR disadvantage than does prematurity, and obscures the fact that the US actually has lower infant mortality in the first month of life. Second, almost all of this post-neonatal disadvantage is accounted for by higher socioeconomic inequality in the US: infants born to high socioeconomic status mothers in the US have mortality profiles similar to infants born to high socioeconomic status mothers in Austria and Finland. Building on these two new facts, we propose a framework for investigating the determinants of the US IMR disadvantage: any behavior or policy which helps to explain the US IMR disadvantage must have an impact on post-neonatal mortality and must vary across groups in the same way that mortality does. Within this framework a number of factors -- such as smoking, sleep position (other than bed-sharing), and parental leave -- appear unlikely to explain the US IMR disadvantage, whereas other factors such as bed-sharing and well-child visits appear more likely to play an important role. In addition to shedding light on the sources of the US-Europe IMR gap, we also discuss potential implications for decreasing the socioeconomic gradient in IMR within the US.

The weekly Demography Workshop series is held every Thursday from 12:00 – 1:20 p.m. at NORC at the University of Chicago in seminar room 232/233, located in the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at 1155 East 60th Street.

For more information on the Demography Workshop series, visit the Population Research Center site.