Update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
In 2004 (the latest year that data are available for all countries), the United States ranked 29th in the world in infant mortality, tied with Poland and Slovakia.
That’s down from 12th in 1960, and 23rd in 1990.
A common response to these numbers has been that US rates are not really comparable to those in other countries, for an assortment of reasons, including a high rate of premature births in the mix. The CDC disagrees.
International comparisons of infant mortality can be affected by differences in reporting of fetal and infant deaths. However, it appears unlikely that differences in reporting are the primary explanation for the United States’ relatively low international ranking.
Here’s the report’s summary.
Despite the dramatic decline in infant mortality during the 20th century, the U.S. infant mortality rate appears to have plateaued in the first few years of the 21st century.
The U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than rates in most other developed countries. The relative position of the United States in comparison to countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, appears to be worsening. In 2004, the United States ranked 29th in the world in infant mortality, tied with Poland and Slovakia. Previously, the United States’ international ranking in infant mortality was 12th in 1960 and 23d in 1990.
There are large differences in infant mortality rates by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Puerto Rican women have the highest infant mortality rates; rates are lowest for Asian or Pacific Islander, Central and South American, and Cuban women.
Preterm birth has a considerable impact on the U.S. infant mortality rate. The plateau in the U.S. infant mortality rate from 2000 to 2005 is due to an increase in the percentage of infants born preterm (including very preterm and late preterm), together with a lack of decline in the infant mortality rate for very preterm infants. There has also been an increase in the relative impact of preterm-related causes of death. In 2005, 36.5% of infant deaths in the United States were due to preterm-related causes of death, a 5% increase since 2000. The impact of preterm-related causes of death was even higher for non-Hispanic black and Puerto Rican women.