Why Is Infant Mortality Higher in the United States Than in Europe?

Alice Chen, Emily Oster, and Heidi Williams analyze trends in infant mortality finding infants in the United States die at higher rates than those of comparatively wealthy nations. In this study, researchers combined micro-data from the US with similar data from four European countries to investigate this US infant mortality disadvantage. Low birth weight accounts for 75 percent of the US disparity relative to Finland or Belgium, but only 30 percent relative to Austria or the UK. Income inequality is another part of the answer. The data showed that the rise in infant deaths across every region seems to accelerate at the one-month point. Home nurse visits, found throughout much of Europe, may account for improved outcomes. The study noted that small-scale programs exist in the US as well and have expanded under certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Randomized evaluations of these programs have shown some early promise in reducing infant mortality and deserve further research, the study reported. The most effective strategies to reduce American infant deaths should focus on those older than one month from lower-income families, the researchers found.

The full study is available at American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. A press release for the study is available here.

Citation: Chen, A., Oster, E., & Williams, H. (2016). Why Is Infant Mortality Higher in the United States Than in Europe? American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.