The following article is an except form pages 67-69 of my book The Conscience of a Young Conservative. If you enjoy, free PDF copies are available through Liberty.me, and print copies are available on Amazon. 

Similar to argument discussed in “The Lifespan Fallacy,” [an earlier section of the book] arguments comparing infant mortality in the U.S. vs. “socialized” countries are like comparing apples to oranges. According to the World Fact Book’s estimate, the US ranks 46th in infant mortality, placing us behind the UK, Canada, and even third world countries like Cuba. This would be embarrassing if it were true, but again, the statistics lie.

There is simply no universal way that infant mortality is calculated, which allows certain variables to distort them. Some examples are listed below:

  • The United Kingdom defines a stillbirth as “a child which has issued forth from its mother after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy and which did not at any time after being completely expelled from its mother breathe or show any other signs of life.”[1]
  • In Canada, Germany, Ireland and Austria, premature babies weighing under 500 grams are counted as still births. In Australia, those weighing under 400g are stillbirths. These babies have a mortality rate of 869 per 1,000.[2]
  • France requires a medical certificate that confirms that a child was born “alive and viable.” This is not easy to obtain, nor is there any incentive to obtain one.[3]
  • Most countries (with the exception of the United States) classify babies as “stillborn” if they survive less than 24 hours. The “stillborn” under that criterion make up 40% of all infant deaths.[4]
  • In Hong Kong and Japan, children who die within 24 hours of birth are classified as “miscarriages.” Nearly half of US infant deaths occur within the first 24 hours.[5]
  • Genetics also play a role; the infant mortality rate for blacks in the United States is 2.4 higher than that of whites.[6] This isn’t due to inequalities in health care coverage, as Mexican Americans, who have the least access to health insurance, and are twice as likely to be born out of hospital, have lower infant mortality rates than do Native Americans and Blacks.[7] As a more ethnically diverse country, inequalities in mortality rates across races about American infant mortality rates negatively.
  • Switzerland doesn’t count the death of babies under 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) into their rate.[8]

Adjusting for even a single factor can change the outcome of the statistics a lot. Norway, which ranks 13th in infant mortality ranks equal with the US when weight at birth is accounted for.[9] Even with all the listed variables controlled for, other possibilities exist.

Underreporting can distort the figures of some countries. Countries do have a motivation to lie about these statistics, and this practice has been documented before. Cuba, in addition to underreporting statistics also has their doctors perform abortions on the unborn which would have otherwise been high risk births, most of which would have died and been added to Cuba’s infant mortality rate had they been allowed to be born.[10]

Although determining the real infant mortality rate in other countries is difficult, comparisons can be made on how successful the US is in saving newborns in critical condition. For example, as rare as it is for a baby who weighs less than 400g to survive birth, the majority of survivors were born in the States. The “Tiniest Baby Registry” has tracked down 110 infants who we born weighing less than 400 grams at birth between 1936-2010. Eighty of them (73 percent) were born in the United States.[11] It also would appear that the United States has shown improvement and has an even larger share of credit when only <400g babies in the 21st century are measured. Forty-two of the 52 born after the year 2000 were born in the United States.[12]

[1] See: Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1953. Accessible online at: <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/1-2/20>.

[2] Halderman, Linda. “The Doctor Is In: Infant Mortality Comparisons a Statistical Miscarriage.” Pajamas Media, 3 Aug. 2008. <http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/the-doctor-is-in-infant-mortality-comparisons-a-statistical-miscarriage/>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Coulter, Ann. “A Statistical Regression Analysis of Maritime Unemployment Rates, 1946-1948. Just Kidding – More Liberals Lies About Health Care!” 30 Sept. 2009.  <http://www.anncoulter.com/cgi-local/article.cgi?article=332>.

[6] MacDorman, Marian F., and T. J. Matthews. “Recent Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control, Oct. 2008. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db09.htm>.

[7] Gratzer, “The Cure,” p. 175.

[8] Eberstadt, Nicholas. “The Tyranny of Numbers: Measurement and Misrule.” (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1995), p. 50.

[9] Halderman, “The Doctor is In.”

[10] See John Stossel’s “Sick in America: Whose Body is it Anyway?” Aired September 14th 2007 on 20/20.

[11] Bell, E. F., and D. K. Zumbach. “The Tiniest Babies: a Registry of Survivors with Birth Weight Less than 400 Grams.” PubMed, Jan. 2011.  <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21187314>.

[12] Ibid.