NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Stunning Decline In Infant Mortality

October 4, 1999

Since 1900, the rate of children who die before reaching age 1 has declined by more than 90 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, the proportion of women who die of pregnancy-related complications has similarly declined.

  • In 1915, 100 infants died before age 1 out of every 1,000 births -- a figure which declined to fewer than 7.2 per 1,000 by 1997.
  • At the dawn of the 20th century, six to nine out of every 1,000 women succumbed to complications due to pregnancies.
  • The rate was less than 0.1 per 1,000 in 1997.
  • CDC experts characterize these achievements as "enormous" and cite a variety of factors as responsible for the turn- around.

Chief among them are improved living conditions in urban areas, rising standards of living, higher education levels and access to health care. Also, women started having fewer children and spacing them further apart.

The death rate began decreasing during the 1930s and 1940s with the introduction of penicillin and other antibiotics -- along with the availability of safer blood supplies. The downward trend resumed during the 1990s as cases of sudden infant death syndrome dropped 50 percent when parents were urged to place sleeping infants on their backs.

Source: Associated Press, "U.S. Infant Death Rate Makes Sharpest Decline," Washington Times, October 2, 1999.


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