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What’s Killing American Babies Before Their First Birthday?

Regular nurse visits to the home might save young lives.
Photographer: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

The number of infants who die before their first birthday is an important measure of a nation's health, and the U.S. performs poorly.

This isn't just compared with Western Europe. The U.S. ranks below dozens of other countries, including Cuba, Lithuania, and South Korea, by one measure. Untangling the reasons behind the gap in infant mortality—or even to what extent it’s the full picture—is fraught. Nations measure and report births and deaths in different ways. A death shortly after delivery that is counted toward the tally in the U.S. may be excluded as a stillbirth elsewhere.

A new economic paper attempts to explain some of this dissonance. Differences in reporting methodology do inflate America’s infant mortality rate, compared with those in some countries, economists from Brown University, the University of Southern California, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology found. But that’s not the whole story.