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psc brown bag iconCan We Explain Black-White Disparities in Infant Mortality?

Steven J. Haider (Department of Economics, Michigan State University)

04/13/2009, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

The U.S. infant mortality rate (IMR) improved substantially between 1985 and 2001, falling 35 percent from 10.4 to 6.8 per 1,000 live births. Despite these improvements, large racial disparities persist: in 2001, the IMR was 13.2 for blacks compared with 5.6 for whites. Although it is natural to suspect that the black-white IMR gap arises from socioeconomic differences, such an explanation seems at odds with the fact that the IMR for another socioeconomically disadvantaged group, U.S. Hispanics, was 5.4 in 2001, lower than that of whites. In this paper, we systematically examine the differences in IMRs between blacks and whites, assessing when these differences arise and their potential explanations. Specifically, we consider differences in the birthweight distribution, mortality over the first 28 days, mortality over the remaining part of the first year, the correlates of each of these underlying IMR components, and infant death reporting. The main contributions of this paper are three-fold: we provide a transparent and systematic treatment of the underlying components of infant mortality and their correlates, we pay specific attention to how these components fit together, and we present similar results for other racial/ethnic groups to place the black-white gaps in perspective.

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