Infant Mortality Rates Vary by Race and Ethnicity

New Report Examines Contributing Causes

For Release: August 5, 1999

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800


Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1997 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. Vol. 47, No. 23. 24. pp. (PHS) 99-1120. [PDF – 718 KB]

Black infants continue to die at twice the rate of white infants, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, which analyzes the causes of infant death and the impact of those causes on infant survival. The report found that African American infants were more than 4 times as likely as white infants to die from the cause of death category disorders related to low birthweight in 1997. If this cause of death among African Americans could be reduced to the rate for white infants, the difference between black and white infant mortality rates would be reduced by more than one-fourth (28 percent).

For American Indian infants the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was about 2.5 times higher than the rate for whites in 1997. More than one-third of the elevated infant mortality rate for American Indian mothers when compared with white mothers can be accounted for by their higher SIDS rate. Puerto Rican infants also had a much higher rate of SIDS than non-Hispanic white infants while for Central and South American mothers the most notable finding was a much lower SIDS rate.

“Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1997 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set” also documented that Mexican American mothers experienced an infant mortality rate 17 percent higher than for non-Hispanic white mothers for congenital anomalies but considerably lower for SIDS and deaths associated with maternal complications. For most of the major causes of infant mortality, rates were lower for Asian and Pacific Islander mothers.

The overall infant mortality rate was 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 births, continuing a long downward trend. In general, mortality rates were lowest for infants born to Asian and Pacific Islander mothers, 5.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, followed by white (6.0), American Indian (8.7), and African American (13.7). Infant mortality rates were higher for Puerto Rican mothers (7.9) than for Mexican (5.8), Cuban (5.5), and Central and South American (5.5) mothers.

The leading causes of infant death in 1997 were congenital anomalies, disorders associated with low birthweight and SIDS, which taken together accounted for nearly one-half of all infant deaths in the United States in 1997. Respiratory distress syndrome and maternal complications rounded out the top causes of infant death.

The report by Marian F. MacDorman and Jonnae O. Atkinson is based on information from the death certificate linked to the corresponding birth certificate for each infant under 1 year of age who died in 1997. The purpose of the linkage is to conduct more detailed analyses of infant mortality patterns and provide better information for prevention, research, and medical care. Infant mortality rates were higher for infants whose mothers began prenatal care after the first trimester, were teenagers or older than 40, did not complete high school, were unmarried, or who smoked during pregnancy. Infant mortality was also higher for male infants, multiple births, and infants born preterm or of low birthweight.

The data are based on birth and death records filed and linked by State vital statistics offices and reported to NCHS through the National Vital Statistics System.