The privilege of being born in 2015

Martin Robbins seizes the occasion of a birth in the Windsor family to point out what luck that baby has to be born with such good odds.

[T]hings are getting better. The small wrinkly proto-Royal that just emerged from the national womb will have thrice the chance of surviving that her father and I did, just through the privilege of being born in 2015. But if that makes you feel all warm and complacent, there are a couple of big problems with this story.

While it’s true that things are getting better, they’re still not good enough. Our babies are considerably more likely to die than those born in countries like Spain, Italy, France or basically any other European nation you can think of. By 2010, we’d just about caught up with Japan… in 1985.

Martin doesn’t talk about the US, but I’ll make this point: things here are quite a lot worse. We have much more poverty and class / race / immigration status / etc segregation here, and a much much much worse system of health care distribution. Oddly enough, that has results.

Martin says that Britain’s version of the US is the north.

There’s a simple statistical adjustment you can do that brings Britain’s infant and child mortality rates back into line with the rest of Europe’s, reducing the rate by a third and putting us level again with countries like France and Germany. Can you guess what it is?

Get rid of the poor people. Especially northerners.

That, at least, is the same here – not the northeners part, but the poor people part. We have a lot of them, and it’s intentional. Why? Because poor people will work for low wages in crap conditions. Profit!

The National Children’s Bureau made the point in a recent report that: “If the UK had the same all-cause mortality rate for children under 14 years as Sweden we could have nearly 2,000 fewer deaths among children in that age group per year – five fewer children’s deaths per day.”

How do we address that? Well there are several things a government can do, and they boil down to this. Protect our strong system of primary health care, and raise standards of mental health treatment. Ensure that poorer families received adequate support. Treat alcohol and drug abuse. Above all, reduce inequality in our society. As the NCB put it, “Poverty kills children. Equity saves lives.”

We don’t even have a strong system of primary health care. The US is a third world country in many ways.

Not to derail Martin’s point. Sorry Martin. The UK could do better, and the US that times a thousand.


  1. peterh says

    The UK’s infant mortality rate is higher than most of Europe except for Greece & Portugal but it’s lower than in the US.

  2. says

    At the risk of another derail, “thrice the chance of surviving” sounds like a statistical fallacy. Perhaps he meant “one-third the chance of dying in infancy”, which is not the same thing.

  3. says

    So they have discovered that most advances in medical care are for the rich and available mostly to the rich? I can’t work up a lot of shock about that.

    Instead of getting rid of the poor people, why not get rid of the rich? Then it would be fairly clear which areas in public health need to be addressed. Remember: not only do the different outcomes for the rich throw off simple longevity metrics, the concerns of the rich disproportionately effect where R&D is being spent. It’s why I nearly always lose my shit when some transhumanist talks about wanting to cure death. Uhh, yeah, you want to live in an oligarchy of deathless rich people, serving them with your reward for good service being acension to the elite? Can’t you see they’re already inclined to pull the ladder up after themselves?

  4. rjw1 says

    @2 Eamon Knight

    Yes, that doesn’t make sense, in context, ‘thrice the chance’ seems to suggest the current probability would be greater than 1.0 or the previous generation’s chances were less than 1/3. Speaking of statistics, some years ago I had an online discussion with an American doctor who claimed that US infant mortality statistics were inflated because of different reporting criteria–as we say in the trade, we weren’t ‘comparing apples with apples’.

    @3 Marcus Ranum,

    “most advances in medical care are for the rich and available mostly to the rich?”

    No, not most medical advances. That generalisation probably wouldn’t be accurate for citizens of countries which have ‘socialised’ medical systems and less inequality i.e. most Western nations other than the US. However, I’m sure that the US has the ‘best medical care in the world”, if people have the money

  5. says

    However, I’m sure that the US has the ‘best medical care in the world”, if people have the money

    Sorry, I should have made it more clear I was speaking from a US perspective (although if ‘death’ is cured, the world will be gifted with an immortal American oligarchy. Just think of it! Kardashians forever…)

    The US hasn’t got the ‘best medical care in the world’; except for in a few isolated places like Johns Hopkins hospital or the Mayo Clinic — most of the truly rich people I’ve met have private doctors. So it’s very hard to tell. But one thing we do have, that nobody can touch: we have the best government money can buy.

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