New Data on Infant Mortality Show Both Positive and Troubling Trends

Infant Mortality Rate: California, 1995 to 2022

Trend graph showing the California's infant mortality rate from 1995 to 2022.

In 2022, 1,675 California infants died before their first birthday—less than half the number who died in 1995. Over this period, the state’s infant mortality rate fell by more than 35%, from 6.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births to 4 per 1,000. Overall infant mortality trends statewide generally parallel those of the nation but rates in California have remained consistently lower than U.S. rates across years with comparable figures.

At the local level, infant mortality rates vary widely by year and by region. Among counties with data for 2022, figures ranged from fewer than 3 deaths per 1,000 live births (Placer, San Francisco, San Mateo) to more than 6 per 1,000 (Madera, Monterey, Shasta).

Statewide and nationally, the leading causes of infant mortality in 2020 were birth defects and preterm birth or low birthweight; in California, rates for these causes were 0.9 and 0.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.

And both statewide and nationally, inequities persist. U.S. infants born to African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander mothers are much more likely to die before age 1 than those born to Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and white mothers. In California, the infant mortality rate for African American/Black mothers (9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births) was more than double the rate for Hispanic/Latino mothers (3.9 per 1,000) and nearly three times the rate for white mothers (3.1 per 1,000) in 2020.

Research shows that factors contributing to racial disparities in birth outcomes may have roots in structural racism and related stress. The large Black-white disparity in preterm births, for instance, is only partly explained by known health risk factors, and exists at all socioeconomic levels. In California, rates of preterm delivery and low birthweight among infants of Black parents in the top income range (95th percentile) are 1.5 times higher than for infants of white parents in the bottom income range (5th percentile).

Similarly, maternal mortality and severe childbirth complications disproportionately impact Black mothers, even after controlling for education and income, suggesting, again, that programs and policies aiming to close persistent gaps and improve outcomes must look beyond addressing markers of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Read more about strategies to reduce infant mortality and advance equity in maternal and infant health.

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Recently Released Data

We recently released data about infant mortality. See links to the latest here.

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