Early Life Mortality in the United States

This project will develop an in-depth understanding of early life mortality (ages 0-24) in the US in the context of substantial racial/ethnic inequality and very rapid socioeconomic and family changes that have occurred in recent decades. Aims include: (1) document the associations between the risk of overall and cause-specific early life mortality with parental socioeconomic status (SES), family structure, and race/ethnicity; and (2) do so for demographic subpopulations, for the contemporary time period and with regard to changes over the past 25 years, and for geographic areas of the country. Alarmingly, the US ranks dead last in comparison to 16 high-income counterparts, usually by a sizeable margin, in age-specific early life mortality rates. This research is significant because it focuses on a crucial public health problem, addresses major gaps in knowledge regarding basic yet critical contemporary patterns of early life mortality, increases limited knowledge about how trends of US early life mortality have unfolded over the last 25 years, and informs theoretical debates about changing patterns of mortality in an increasingly stratified society. The project is innovative because it grounds the work in a conceptual framework that highlights the diverging socioeconomic and family contexts in which infants, children, and youth are living; devotes attention to the changing racial/ethnic composition of the population; and provides insights into variations in early life mortality patterns and temporal trends and geographic variations in them. The conceptual framework focuses on three interrelated resources—SES, family structure, and race/ethnicity—that are important in differentiating the survival prospects of individuals. Children living with the most highly educated parents are now supported by more economic and parental time resources than ever before while children living with the lowest educated parents lag further behind their counterparts than they did in the 1970s. Family structure changes are associated with and may be exacerbating these educational differences in children’s resources. Such social and economic changes and continued racial/ethnic inequality may have pronounced effects on early life mortality risks, with particularly detrimental consequences for the most disadvantaged demographic subgroups living in the most disadvantaged geographic contexts. The researchers primarily employ demographic methods and hazards modeling to exploit the two largest and most comprehensive US data sets extant for analyzing early life mortality: the 2013 release of the 1986-2011 National Health Interview Survey-Linked Mortality Files and the 1989-2008 NCHS Linked Cohort Birth/Infant Death Files. This project has potential to produce new and important substantive and policy-relevant information about US early life mortality, a critical but woefully overlooked area of study.

Principal Investigators: Robert Hummer, Richard G. Rogers (University of Colorado)

Funding Source: NIH NICHD

Grant Number: R01HD082106

Funding Period: 9/1/2015 - 6/30/2018

Primary Research Area: Population Health

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