NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 8, 2005

Comparing statistics among countries can be tricky, and in the case of infant mortality figures the comparisons are downright treacherous. For starters, different countries count differently, note physicians Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak:

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition, all babies showing any signs of life, such as muscle activity, a gasp for breath or a heartbeat, should be included as a live birth; the United States strictly follows this definition, but many other countries do not.
  • Switzerland doesn't count the death of very small babies, less than 30 centimeters, as a live birth, according to Nicholas Eberstadt (American Enterprise Institute), so comparing the 1998 infant mortality rates for Switzerland and the United States, 4.8 and 7.2 respectively, is like comparing apples and oranges.

Other countries, such as Italy, use different definitions in various parts of their own country. Eberstadt observes that underreporting also seems apparent in the proportion of infant deaths different countries report for the first twenty-four hours after birth:

  • In Australia, Canada and the United States, over one-third of all infant deaths are reported to take place in the first day.
  • In contrast less than one-sixth of France's infant deaths are reported to occur in the first day of life.
  • In Hong Kong, such deaths account for only one-twenty-fifth of all infant deaths.

Since the United States generally uses the WHO definition of live birth, economist John Goodman (National Center for Policy Analysis) and others in their 2004 book "Lives at Risk" conclude, "Taking into account such data-reporting differences, the rates of low-birth-weight babies born in America are about the same as other developed countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)." Likewise, infant mortality rates, adjusted for the distribution of newborns by weight, are about the same.

Source: Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak, "The Misty Myths of Infant Mortality Data," Jewish World Review, March 11, 2005.

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