Yeah, Baby: The U.S. Infant Mortality Rate Is at an All-Time Low

But American babies still die in greater numbers than almost anywhere in the developed world.

Bonnie U. Gruenberg; Wikimedia Commons

The United States of America is known as many things: eagles, burgers, a 2-0 record in World Wars, opportunity, cowboys, the Cowboys, and all the still-warm firearms you can pry out of cold, dead hands.

What we’re not known for, particularly, is keeping up with the rest of the industrial world in basic mortality categories. Well, check this: Data released by the CDC indicates that the national infant mortality rate declined 2.3 percent in 2014!

Americans also experienced a 1 percent drop in the overall death rate that is pretty stable across race and gender, though the death rate for black men is almost 25 percent higher than for white men.

As for the overall average life expectancy for Americans, it remained unmoved at a 78.8 years — 76.4 for men and 81.2 for women.

While the uptick on the early side of things seems to bode well for the future, it ignores a harsh truth. Sure, the infant mortality rate ticked down, but we’re still way behind other developed countries. And not just your Finlands, Japans, or Swedens — countries typically with infant death rates a third of ours. The recent CDC study didn’t go into international comparisons, but we seem likely to do about as well as last year when we ranked just below nations like Poland and Slovakia.

The story is also more complicated when you go into state-by-state comparisons. Typical suspects like Alabama can have infant mortality rates more than twice as high as the best-performing states. Mortality rates for infants, unsurprisingly, have a lot to do with the mother’s income, and in a country as stratified as the United States, this means a lot as well.

These numbers have been true for a while. Barring a revolution in how we take care of children and mothers, they don’t seem to be changing in a huge way anytime soon. Nonetheless, a decrease from 596.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2014 to 582.1 means a ton on the individual level. More than 3 million people were born in American during 2015, which adds up to more than 400 more babies making it out of infancy.

The causes for the improvement may be unclear, and we shouldn’t be too excited about our very middle-of-the-pack international ranking, but we’re nonetheless improving. If you know a living baby, now would be the time to wash your hands and give her a high-five.