Monday, July 8, 2013

Teen Mamas

My daughter Molly and I are still talking about why America's infant mortality rate is so high. Molly found that when it comes to prenatal care (the lack of which is an obvious factor in our high mortality rate), the biggest gap between Americans and Europeans occurs in the first trimester - and that half of the American mothers who got no early prenatal care didn't even know they were pregnant.*

Didn't know? What were they, children?

Could be.

I took the UN data from 2006 and compared mothers' ages in the United States, France, Sweden, and Italy. Then I made these charts. Start reading just past 12:00 (0%: though there are births to women between 45 and 49, there are too few to register on a pie of this size) and go clockwise.

In the United States in 2006, 10.7 percent of births were to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19. (The good news is that five years later, in 2011, only 8.3 percent were to mothers in that age group.)

By contrast, in Italy only 2.7% of births were to teenagers:

... in France, only 2.1%:

... and in Sweden, just 1.4%:


According to the March of Dimes, the highest infant mortality rate in the United States is to mothers under the age of 20 (9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births). That's nearly twice as high as the rate for American mothers in their 30s (5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births).

Sadly, it's the teen mamas who are least likely to get adequate prenatal care, most likely to have preterm babies, and most likely to lose their babies before the babies' first birthday.

What is America doing wrong? What are France, Italy, and Sweden doing right?** Can we learn from them?

*These links are to articles written in the 1990s. We were unable to find more recent data comparing prenatal care in Europe and America; if you know where to find some, please let us know.

**In case you're wondering, the U.S. abortion rate is higher than France's or Italy's and about the same as Sweden's. So abortion isn't the explanation.

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