Norwegian infant mortality no longer dependent on income

Kjell Gunnarn Salvanes and Aline Bütikofer.
INEQUALITY: ‘Our study shows that it was not until 2015 that the chance of an infant dying in their first year of life was the same among the 10% richest and 10% poorest families in Norway,’ says NHH professor Kjell Gunnar Salvanes (to the left). Photo: Hallvard Lyssand / Unsplash v. Mauro Mora
NHH By Ingrid Aarseth Johannessen

30 November 2021 11:16

Norwegian infant mortality no longer dependent on income

Differences in infant mortality between rich and poor Norwegians have never been less pronounced than they are now, new NHH study reveals.

Researchers at NHH are analysing mortality in different age groups from the 1950s up to the present. They are studying whether the likelihood of a person dying in a certain age group is dependent on income. The study was recently published in Fiscal Studies.

The study reveals that the likelihood of a baby surviving their first year of life is no longer dependent on the family being rich.

Link between income and mortality

‘The fact that there are no geographical differences in mortality does not mean that mortality in Norway is no longer determined by social background,’ says Kjell Gunnar Salvanes, professor at the FAIR centre at NHH and one of the authors of the study.

‘Geographical differences in infant mortality were evened out before 1960, but it took decades to eradicate the differences between rich and poor families. Our study shows that it was not until 2015 that the chance of an infant dying in their first year of life was the same among the 10% richest and 10% poorest families in Norway.

‘Understanding the reason is important’

The study shows that social inequality in infant mortality both at the geographical level and between social groups has evened out in Norway. It is important to understand the reasons for these changes,’ says NHH professor and co-author of the study, Aline Bütikofer:

‘Access to welfare programmes, health services and vaccines reduced infant mortality, especially in poor areas, thus evening out geographical differences before 1960. The fact that prosperous families were quicker to change their behaviour based on new research findings, e.g. the risk of smoking in pregnancy, meant that the differences at family level for social groups lasted much longer.'

The researchers have also found that the biggest decline in mortality has been among older people who live in low-income Norwegian municipalities.

‘There are also interesting differences between men and women. Social inequality in mortality was mainly a phenomenon found among men. There was little difference between women in prosperous and poor areas already in 1991, while there are still considerable differences among older men,’ says Salvanes.

Europeans live longer than Americans

Together with researchers in eight European countries and the US, NHH researchers have also compared mortality in the US compared with Europe to find out whether mortality in rich parts of the US was more similar to that in European countries. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the life expectancy among white Americans has fallen over the past 30 years compared with Europeans.

‘While poor countries in Europe, like Portugal, managed to catch up with the life expectancy rates of richer European countries, like Germany and Norway, by 2018, white Americans are still lagging behind. The life expectancy of black Americans was far lower than both Europeans and white Americans during the same period, but the life expectancy for black people rose more quickly, thus closing the gap, in part, between black and white people.

The researchers highlight improved infant health as one of the important reasons for the increase in life expectancy among black Americans since 1990, as well as various welfare programmes and less pollution in poor areas.