The Social Determinants of Infant Mortality and Birth Outcomes in Western Developed Nations

A Cross-Country Systematic Review

Published in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, v. 10, no. 6, June 2013, p. 2296-2335

by Daniel Kim, Adrianna Saada

Read More

Access further information on this document at International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Infant mortality (IM) and birth outcomes, key population health indicators, have lifelong implications for individuals, and are unequally distributed globally. Even among western industrialized nations, striking cross-country and within-country patterns are evident. We sought to better understand these variations across and within the United States of America (USA) and Western Europe (WE), by conceptualizing a social determinants of IM/birth outcomes framework, and systematically reviewing the empirical literature on hypothesized social determinants (e.g., social policies, neighbourhood deprivation, individual socioeconomic status (SES)) and intermediary determinants (e.g., health behaviours). To date, the evidence suggests that income inequality and social policies (e.g., maternal leave policies) may help to explain cross-country variations in IM/birth outcomes. Within countries, the evidence also supports neighbourhood SES (USA, WE) and income inequality (USA) as social determinants. By contrast, within-country social cohesion/social capital has been underexplored. At the individual level, mixed associations have been found between individual SES, race/ethnicity, and selected intermediary factors (e.g., psychosocial factors) with IM/birth outcomes. Meanwhile, this review identifies several methodological gaps, including the underuse of prospective designs and the presence of residual confounding in a number of studies. Ultimately, addressing such gaps including through novel approaches to strengthen causal inference and implementing both health and non-health policies may reduce inequities in IM/birth outcomes across the western developed world.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/research-integrity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.