The infant mortality rate (IMR) in the United States is quite high compared to that of other developed countries. Unsurprisingly, black women experience the highest IMRs of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., a rate that’s been roughly twice that of white women for over 35 years.

This report, which explores how social determinants and other factors contribute to these racial disparities, highlights the work needed to improve outcomes for both black babies and their mothers.

Key Findings

  • In 2015, more than 23,000 Americans died before their first birthday; 28.2 percent of these deaths were black infants.
  • While income, age, and educational attainment are all correlated with birth outcomes, these “protective factors” are not as protective for black women as for other groups. Notably, black women have a higher risk of infant mortality at every age during their childbearing years, and black women with doctorates and professional degrees have a higher IMR than white women who never finished high school.
  • Similarly, risk factors (obesity) and risky behaviors (alcohol and drug use) do not explain the IMR disparities. Infants born to obese black women were admitted to the NICU at higher rates (with lower birth weight) than those born to obese white women. And pregnant black women consume alcohol at equivalent rates to pregnant white women and smoke cigarettes at significantly lower rates.