SOCIAL INDICATORS 2007 (USA)
Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy
There are a number of factors that contribute to having a high quality of life. These include safe environments, adequate diet, adequate health care, sufficient education, adequate financial resources, nurturing families and communities, to name just a few. There are measures that tell us about each of these variables but when looking for broad quality of life measures, demographers tend to start with two. One is the infant mortality rate and the other is life expectancy at birth.
The infant mortality rate is the number of children that die between birth to 1 year of age per 1,000 live births. This measure is important because these children are the most vulnerable members of any society. Measuring how well the most vulnerable survive tells us something about the overall quality of life for a population.
The second measure is life expectancy at birth. Everyone dies eventually but a society with a high quality of life will have organized itself to minimize the number of premature deaths in its population.
What do these two measures tell us about American society?
The infant mortality rate throughout most of recorded history has been estimated to be about 250 per 1,000 live births. Early in the 1900s the rate was well over 100 in the United States. The rate appears to have leveled off in recent years and it remains to be seen if some minimum barrier has been attained.
Life expectancy at birth for the United States in 1900 was just under 50 years. While life expectancy has increased by eight or nine years over the last fifty years, it improved by nearly twenty years in the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century. With continued advances in biotechnology it remains to be seen how high this rate may rise.
These two measures illustrate the remarkable advances we have experienced in recent generations due to health care, sanitation, education, workplace reforms and technology. No populations in the past, and few populations in the present, have experienced the high quality of life Americans enjoy today.
- The infant mortality rate has dropped more than 75% over the past fifty years.
- Life expectancy has continued on a steady upward climb for the previous fifty years (and the previous century, though not reported here.)
These two broad societal indicators signify an improving quality of life.