The abysmal infant mortality rate in the United States compared to other rich nations is almost entirely due to the insufficient quality of healthcare available to poor babies after they are born, according to a study conducted by researchers from USC, MIT and University of Chicago.
While there has been significant attention paid by researchers to the infant mortality gap between Blacks and whites in the U.S., the study by USC’s Alice Chen, MIT’s Heidi Williams, and University of Chicago’s Emily Oster compared the U.S. infant mortality rate to those of two relatively wealthy European nations who quantify infant mortality in the same way as the U.S.—Finland and Austria.
The infant mortality rates in both Finland and Austria are among the lowest rates in the world.
In a paper entitled—”Why Is Infant Mortality in the US Higher Than in Europe?”—the researchers found that there is virtually no difference in the infant mortality rates of well-to-do, well-educated white mothers in the U.S. compared to Finland and Austria. The difference comes when looking at the mothers at the bottom three-fourths of the income distribution. The number of poor babies who die in the first few months of their lives is much higher in the U.S. than in Finland and Austria.
The findings indicate that those European nations do a superior job of providing quality healthcare to the poor than does the U.S.
“In both Finland and Austria, post-neonatal mortality rates are extremely similar across groups with varying levels of advantage,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “In contrast, there is tremendous inequality in the US, with lower education groups, unmarried and African-American women having much higher infant mortality rates.”
So the findings suggest that the U.S.’s low international ranking of 51st in infant mortality, comparable to Croatia, could be lifted substantially if the U.S. provided better healthcare to the poor. The researchers say it would benefit the U.S. to the tune of $84 trillion a year added to the economy if it reduced its infant mortality numbers to the level of the Scandinavian countries.
While the researchers found that “unmarried mothers and African-American mothers account for an outsize share of the infant mortality difference” between the U.S. and the European countries, this is almost entirely due to the relatively low income of those two populations in the U.S. The researchers proved this by running the numbers without Blacks in the sample and found that the differences between the rates in the U.S. and the European countries were “essentially unchanged.”