Questions for T.J. Mathews, M.S., Demographer, Statistician, and Lead Author of “Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States, 2005-2014”
Q: Was there a result in your study’s analysis of infant mortality that you hadn’t expected and that really surprised you?
TM: Though not unexpected, the pervasive and large decrease in infant mortality that is documented in the report is quite striking. While we had been observing slight declines in the infant mortality rate, it’s very good news to see significant declines over the past decade.
Q: Why did you conduct this study on a decade of infant mortality in the United States?
TM: We produced this report because infant mortality is an important public health measure. The United States does not compare well with other developed countries. Measuring and understanding the changes in infant mortality rates over time — and identifying who has been impacted by those changes — is critical.
Q: What differences, if any, did you see in infant mortality among race and ethnic groups?
TM: We did see a number of significant differences in infant mortality among race and Hispanic origin groups. Rates reached new lows for infants of Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Asian or Pacific Islander women, though there was no decline among infants of American Indian or Alaska Native women. The largest decreases we saw were among infants of Asian or Pacific Islander women with a 21% drop over the decade, and among infants of non-Hispanic black women, with a 20% decrease.
Q: What is the “period linked birth/infant death data set” that you reference as a source for the statistics in your report?
TM: The “period linked birth and infant death data set” is a very valuable tool for monitoring and exploring the complex inter-relationships between infant death and any risk factors present at birth. In the linked birth and infant death data set, the information from the death certificate is linked to the information from the birth certificate for each infant under 1 year of age who dies in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. The purpose of the linkage is to use the many additional variables available from the birth certificate to conduct more detailed analyses of infant mortality patterns. The linked files include information from the birth certificate such as: age, race, and Hispanic origin of the parents, birth weight, period of gestation, plurality, prenatal care, maternal education, live birth order, marital status, and maternal smoking – which is then linked to information from the death certificate such as age at death, and underlying and multiple cause of death.
Q: What is the take-home message of this report?
TM: I think the take-home message of this report is that the U.S. infant mortality rate declined significantly for the years 2005 to 2014, however, there is still much work to do. While the majority of race and ethnic groups experienced declines in infant mortality rates–and two-thirds of states showed declines as well–the U.S. infant mortality rate is still higher than many other developed countries. Our statistics show we can do better.