After a 5-year plateau, the infant mortality rate in the USA dropped 12% from 2005 to the end of 2011, says a new “NCHS Data Brief” issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reductions for post-neonatal and neonatal mortality were similar.

Infant mortality is a major indicator of the health of a country.

The five leading causes of infant death in the USA account for 56% of all infant deaths; these include unintentional injuries, maternal complications, sudden infant death syndrome, congenital malformations, and short gestation/low birthweight.

  • Congenital malformations (birth defects) – 6% drop in mortality rate
  • Short gestation/low birthweight – short gestation means preterm births. Here, the mortality rate fell 9%
  • Maternal complications – infant mortality declined by 7%
  • SID (sudden infant death syndrome) – mortality fell 20%

From 2005 through 2010, infant mortality declined most rapidly for selected Southern states.

Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, which used to have a history of persistently high infant mortality rates, saw declines of 20% or more.

Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas also experienced significant reductions.

States which historically have had the highest infant mortality rates had the largest declines.

The authors added that not one US state had a “statistically significant increase” in infant mortality during the 2005-2011 period.


Mississippi and Alabama had infant mortality rates of at least 8 per 1,000 live births, compared to the national average of 6.15.

Thirteen states, as well as the District of Columbia had infant mortality rates of between 7 and 7.99 per 1,000 live births, compared to twelve states rates below 5 per 1,000 live births.

The authors wrote “Although infant mortality rates declined most rapidly among selected Southern states, selected states in the South and Midwest regions still had the highest infant mortality rates in 2010. Pennsylvania and Rhode Island also had high infant mortality rates (7.00 or above) in 2010. Differences by state reflect, in part, differences in the population composition of states by race and ethnicity.”


  • After leveling off between 2000 and 2005, the infant mortality rate in the United States dropped by 12% to 6.05 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011.
  • According to preliminary data for 2012, infant mortality rates across the country appear to continue declining.
  • The fall in infant mortality rates from 2005 to the end of 2011 was observed in all major racial and ethnic groups. The fastest fall was seen in non-Hispanic African-Americans.
  • Infant mortality fell in four of five leading causes of infant death.
  • Some Southern states experienced very significant declines in infant mortality rates
  • In 2010, infant mortality rates in the Midwest and South were higher than other regions of the country

According to a 2008 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report, the USA ranked 27th in infant mortality. In spite of the recent decline in infant mortality rates, the USA would still be ranked 27th in 2011, the authors added.

The “NCHS Data Brief” was written by Marian F. MacDorman, Ph.D., Donna L. Hoyert, Ph.D., and T.J. Mathews, M.S., who work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics.

U.S.News & World Report quoted Dr. Marian MacDorman as saying, “Even though we do have a decline, preterm birth rates are much higher than in other countries, and the same is true with infant mortality. Infant mortality among blacks is about twice what it is for white women.” However, “the decline in infant mortality among blacks is more rapid than seen with whites, so it may be that the gap is narrowing.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist