How does infant mortality in the U.S. compare to other countries?

Infant mortality rate (death within their first year of life) is a widely-utilized indicator of population health. This chart collection highlights infant mortality rates in the U.S. compared to rates in similarly wealthy and sizable OECD countries (measured by GDP and GDP per capita), as well as variations in the rate of infant mortality by race and ethnicity within the U.S. Overall, the U.S. and comparable countries have seen a decrease in infant mortality rate in recent years. An earlier brief also explored trends in this topic.


U.S. infant mortality rates (deaths under one year of age per 1,000 live births) are about 71 percent higher than the comparable country average. Differential reporting methods are likely a factor: a recent paper from the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy found that data difference may explain up to 34 percent of the difference in infant mortality rates between the U.S. and comparable countries.

Infant mortality has declined more slowly in the U.S. than comparable countries

While differences in data collection may explain some of the difference in mortality rates, assuming that collection methods have not changed considerably overtime, the differences should not affect the relative rates of change overtime. From 2000 to 2014, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. improved by about 16 percent, while the comparable country average improved about 32 percent.

Infant mortality rates in the U.S. among non-Hispanic blacks are higher than average

The infant mortality rate among all races in the U.S. declined about 16 percent from 2000 to 2014. Non-Hispanic blacks saw about a 21 percent decrease during this time period but continue to have the highest infant mortality rate among all races. American-Indian and Alaska Natives experienced a 9 percent decrease in infant mortality during this time period. Rates among Non-Hispanic blacks and American-Indian/Alaska Natives are higher than average.

Neonatal mortality in the U.S. is higher than in comparable countries

Neonatal deaths are deaths that occur less than 28 days after birth. The U.S. has about 83 percent more neonatal deaths than the comparable country average. Some of the variation in infant and neonatal mortality rates is due to variations among registering practices of premature infants. Most countries have no gestational age or weight limits, while some countries specify limits based on some combination of gestational age, birth weight and survival.

Neonatal mortality in the U.S. has improved more slowly than in comparable countries

From 2000 to 2014, neonatal deaths (deaths less than 28 days after birth) decreased by 14 percent in the U.S. and by 29 percent in comparable countries. A recent paper from the American Economic Journal attributes the difference to health conditions at birth. 

The neonatal mortality rate among non-Hispanic blacks in the U.S. is twice as high as the rate among Whites

From 2000-2014, non-Hispanic Blacks saw the greatest percent change in the neonatal mortality rate (about an 24 percent decrease), but continue to have much higher neonatal mortality rates than all other races/ethnicities in the U.S. (about 67% more).  In 2014, the neonatal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Blacks was almost twice the rate (about 52% more) for non-Hispanic Whites.

Perinatal mortality in the U.S. is slightly lower than comparable countries

The United States has slightly fewer perinatal deaths than comparable OECD countries. Perinatal mortality measures deaths within one week of birth (early neonatal deaths), as well as fetal deaths of a minimum gestation period of 28 weeks or minimum fetal weight of 1000g. It should be noted that there are variations in the definition of fetal deaths between some countries. 

In the U.S., the postneonatal mortality rate is twice as high among non-Hispanic blacks as it is among Whites

Postneonatal mortality in the U.S. is measured as deaths occurring between 28 days to under 1 year after birth. In the U.S., postneonatal mortality rates are twice as high among non-Hispanic Blacks, American Indian and Alaska Natives than all other races in the U.S. A recent paper from the American Economic Journal that high postneonatal mortality rates among disadvantaged groups the reason rates are higher in the U.S. than in Austria and Finland (comparable countries highlighted in the AEJ report).

Congenital malformations and low birth weight account for a significant portion of infant mortality in the U.S.

In 2014, 69 percent of all infant deaths in the U.S. were attributed to the 10 leading causes. The top 2 causes, congenital malformations and low birth weight, accounted for about 38 percent of all infant deaths in the U.S.