NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Revising Infant Mortality Rates for the Early 20th Century United States

Katherine Eriksson, Gregory T. Niemesh, Melissa Thomasson

NBER Working Paper No. 23263
Issued in March 2017
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

Accurate vital statistics are required to understand the evolution of racial disparities in infant health and the causes of rapid secular decline in infant mortality during the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, infant mortality rates prior to 1950 suffer from an upward bias stemming from a severe underregistration of births. At one extreme, African-American births in Southern states went unregistered at the rate of 15 to 25 percent. In this paper, we construct improved estimates of births and infant mortality in the United States for the 1915-1940 period using recently released complete count decennial census microdata combined with the counts of infant deaths from published sources. We check the veracity of our estimates with a major birth registration study completed in conjunction with the 1940 Decennial Census, and that the largest adjustments occur in states with less complete birth registration systems. An additional advantage of our census-based estimation method is the extension back of the birth and infant mortality series for years prior to published estimates of registered births, enabling previously impossible comparisons and estimations. Finally, we show that underregistration can bias effect estimates even in a panel setting with specifications that include location fixed effects and place-specific linear time trends.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the June 2017 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23263

 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us