infant mortalityAmerica is, by all standards, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet, on a daily basis, the supposed benefits of living and being born into this standard of living are not felt by many of this society’s most vulnerable members. And yet, for all the talk by anti-abortion activists of how “pro-life” they are, they rarely, if ever, discuss American’s disgracefully high infant mortality rate or put forth any solutions to solving it.

A new study published in The Lancet from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, first highlighted by The Economist this week, puts this into even starker relief. Women in the United States face higher infant mortality rates than women from countries with similar levels of wealth, and the rate remains stubbornly resistant to what little efforts are made to combat it.

In part, the infant mortality rate is strongly correlated to the high infant mortality rate among African-American women, which (despite all stereotypes to the contrary) isn’t correlated to income or educational levels, pregnancy care or the behavior of mothers. Yet every day, African-American children die in numbers higher than even those born to recent immigrants from Africa.

In a table after the jump, I compare the per capita income of the United States with our mortality rate, our per capita spending on health care (because, as the GOP liked to remind us during teh health care debate, we have the best health care system in the world!) and, just for good measure, the percentage of our GDP that funds our military expenditures — and I then compared those statistics with almost all the countries with comparable child mortality rates. It should come as no surprise, but those countries with similar infant mortality rates all have less than half of our per capita GDP and spend one-fifth or less than us on health care. The only country that even comes close to our health care spending (Luxembourg), has less than half of our child mortality rate; countries with comparable per capita income levels (the UAE, Switzerland and Ireland) all have significantly lower mortality rates (3.0, 4.2 and 4.2 respectively).

What it comes down to, however, is one conclusion: we are failing mothers, and we are failing the children that they choose to have. And all our vaunted health care spending — which, even after reform, will mostly line the pockets of insurance companies and continue the existing disparities between rich and poor within that system — does little or nothing to help these children. There is, however, one thing that all the countries with low child mortality rates have in common: comprehensive, government-led universal health coverage, which ensures that women have care before they contemplate pregnancy, before they attempt pregnancy, while they are pregnant and after their children are born. Huh.

Country Child mortality rate Per capita GDP Health spending per capita Military spending as a percentage of GDP
Singapore 2.5 per 1,000 $50,300 (2009) $1,536 (2006) 4.1% (2008)
Iceland 2.6 per 1,000 $39,600 (2009) $3,207 (2006) 0 (2008)
Sweden 2.7 per 1,000 $36,800 (2009) $3,162 (2006) 1.4% (2008)
Luxembourg 2.9 per 1,000 $78,000 (2009) $5,494 (2006) 0.7% (2007)
Finland 3.0 per 1,000 $34,900 (2009) $2,656 (2006) 1.2% (2008)
United Arab Emirates 3.0 per 1,000 $42,000 (2009) $1,409 (2006) 1.9% (2008)
Slovenia 3.2 per 1,000 $27,900 (2009) $2,063 (2006) 1.5% (2008)
Italy 3.3 per 1,000 $30,300 (2009) $2,631 (2006) 1.8% (2008)
Portugal 3.3 per 1,000 $21,800 (2009) $2,199 (2006) 2.0% (2008)
Japan 3.3 per 1,000 $32.600 (2009) $2,581 (2006) 0.9% (2008)
Norway 3.4 per 1,000 $58,600 (2009) $4,519 (2006) 1.5% (2008)
Greece 3.7 per 1,000 $32,100 (2009) $2,547 (2006) 3.3% (2008)
Spain 3.8 per 1,000 $33,700 (2009) $2,466 (2006) 1.2% (2008)
Austria 3.9 per 1,000 $39,400 (2009) $3,608 (2006) 0.9% (2008)
France 3.9 per 1,000 $32,800 (2009) $2,656 (2006) 1.2% (2008)
Serbia 4.0 per 1,000 $10,400 (2009) $773 (2006) 2.6% (2008)
Denmark 4.1 per 1,000 $36,000 (2009) $3,773 (2006) 1.3% (2008)
Czech Republic 4.1 per 1,000 $25,100 (2009) $1,511 (2006) 1.4% (2008)
Germany 4.1 per 1,000 $34,100 (2009) $3,465 (2006) 1.3% (2008)
Ireland 4.2 per 1,000 $42,200 (2009) $3,106 (2006) 0.5% (2008)
Switzerland 4.2 per 1,000 $41,700 (2009) $4,179 (2006) 0.8% (2008)
Belgium 4.3 per 1,000 $36,600 (2009) $3,726 (2006) 1.1% (2008)
Netherlands 4.3 per 1,000 $39,200 (2009) $3,481 (2006) 1.5% (2008)
Australia 4.7 per 1,000 $38,800 (2009) $3,119 (2006) 1.9% (2008)
Israel 4.7 per 1,000 $28,400 (2009) $2,034 (2006) 8.6% (2008)
Canada 4.9 per 1,000 $38,400 (2009) $3,672 (2006) 1.2% (2008)
South Korea 5.1 per 1,000 $28,000 (2009) $1,467 (2006) 2.6% (2008)
Cuba 5.2 per 1,000 $9,700 (2009) $674 (2006) n/a
United Kingdom 5.3 per 1,000 $35,200 (2009) $2,815 (2006) 2.4% (2008)
Croatia 5.4 per 1,000 $17,600 (2009) $1,169 (2006) 1.9% (2007)
Hungary 5.4 per 1,000 $18,600 (2009) $1,492 (2006) 1.3% (2008)
New Zealand 5.8 per 1,000 $27,300 (2009) $2,448 (2006) 1.1% (2008)
Taiwan 6.2 per 1,000 $29,800 (2009) n/a 2.9% (2008)
Estonia 6.3 per 1,000 $18,700 (2009) $958 (2006) 2.2% (2008)
Poland 6.4 per 1,000 $17,900 (2009) $919 (2006) 2.0% (2008)
Chile 6.5 per 1,000 $14,700 (2009) $689 (2006) 3.4% (2008)
Slovakia 6.6 per 1,000 $21,200 (2009) $1,279 (2006) 1.5% (2008)
United States 6.7 per 1,000 $46,400 (2009) $6,719 (2006) 4% (2008)
Lithuania 6.8 per 1,000 $15,400 (2009) $981 (2006) 1.6% (2008)


(I removed Andorra, Cyprus, Malta and Malaysia despite their lower, single-digit child mortality rates. I did the same for Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Latvia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzgovina, Thailand and Brunei, though they have single-digit child mortality rates that are between 7.5 and 9.9 percent. It was a long table already.)