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American Infant and Maternal Mortality Rates

The American infant mortality rate in 2021 was 5.614 deaths per 1000 live births. This was a 1.18% decrease from 2020 when nearly 20,000 infants died. However, America still has a higher infant mortality rate than most other OECD countries. 

OECD stands for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD is a forum of democratic governments and market economies that “work[s] on establishing evidence-based international standards and finding solutions to a range of social, economic and environmental challenges.” 

Infant mortality is defined as an infant dying within their first year of life. In 2019, the average infant mortality rate for OECD countries was 4.2 deaths per 1,000 live births while the United States recorded 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. From lowest to highest, the U.S. ranked 33 out of the 38 OECD countries for infant mortality rates. Over the past 50 years, the United States has not improved its infant mortality rates the way that the other OECD countries have. 

The five leading causes of these infant deaths in America are birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, injuries and pregnancy complications.

As for the mothers, the maternal mortality rate in America is even higher than the infant mortality rate. Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within 42 days after her pregnancy due to a pregnancy related issue.

The maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 deaths per 100,000. This number increased from 2019 when the rate of deaths was 20.1 per 100,000. The United States’ maternal mortality rate is also higher than other developed countries, but this time significantly so. In 2020, the developed country that was closest to America in maternal mortality rates was France. However, America’s rate was almost three times higher than France’s.

For both infant and maternal mortality rates, there are also significant racial disparities. As of 2019, the Black infant mortality rate was almost three times higher than the white infant mortality rate. In fact, Black, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaska Native and Hispanic infants are all more likely to die than white infants. Additionally, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Black women are two to three times more likely to pass away because of a pregnancy-related issue than white women are.

Researchers believe that economic inequality is to blame for the higher than usual infant mortality rates in America. A study that was published in the Journal of Perinatology, “Infant mortality in the United States”, concluded factors that would negatively affect someone’s health, such as access to and quality of healthcare, affect poor people at a much higher rate. Furthermore, factors that affect one’s overall health can also affect the health of a pregnancy.

The CDC website’s page on Reproductive Health states “the infant mortality rate is an important marker of the overall health of a society.” If this statement is to be believed, the health of American society has some improvements to make.


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