Infant Mortality

The Economist reports on the racial gap in American infant mortality rates: “Black babies born in America are more than twice as likely as white ones to die before their first birthdays.”

For some time, “infant mortality has generally declined at a faster rate for blacks than whites, leading to hope that the disparity might eventually disappear.” Recently, that downward trend has stopped: “According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, black infant mortality in the United States stopped falling around 2012. The paper found that if black babies had died at the same rate as white ones, in 2015 nearly 4,000 infant deaths would have been averted.”

Prematurity is the main reason, but no one entirely knows the causes of prematurity. The mother’s health (blood pressure, weight) and habits (smoking) are factors, but there are also environmental and genetic factors. The Economist says, “Black mothers are more likely than white ones to be poor, unmarried and very young—three variables that are strongly associated with higher infant mortality,” but admits that “these factors only partially explain why black babies die at higher rates.” Even when age and medical care are factored out, “black women are still more likely than white ones to have babies that are born too early or weighing too little.”

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