Study: Infant Mortality Rates Higher in Christian Fundamentalist Communities

A study found communities with more fundamentalist followers had higher rates of infant mortality.

U.S. News and World Report/May 29, 2018

By Alexa Lardieri

According to the study, conducted by researchers with Portland State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio, the "more insular, anti-institutional characteristics of conservative Protestant traditions may lead to poorer health outcomes" among the community.

Researchers examined the religious influence on death rates of infants from four weeks old through one year using data from 1990 to 2010. They observed higher rates of postneonatal infant mortality rates in counties with a greater population of fundamentalist followers, suggesting their "findings point to a relationship between the presence of fundamentalist adherents and poorer infant health at later ages."

They offered several possible explanations for the relationship. First, traditions in the fundamentalist religion enforce "norms related to the rejection of education and science … that may create social environments in which prenatal care or other health-related resources are more restricted in terms of supply (availability) or demand (patient utilization)."

Second, the religion encourages early childbearing and discourages birth control, which "may contribute to distinctive birth and reproductive outcomes."

The study, led by Ginny Garcia-Alexanders, a sociology professor at Portland State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, found that areas with more Catholics and mainline Protestants have lower infant mortality rates. This supports researchers' sentiments that these religions "are civically minded, externally oriented faiths that emphasize community-level care."

Additionally, according to the study, "Catholic-run health systems can bolster the health infrastructure in local communities."

"Both of those [religions] have more of a commitment to worldly pursuits," Garcia-Alexander said in a press release. "There is a concerted effort to make inroads with the community that they live in and to do good for the community, both for members and nonmembers alike."

On the contrary, conservative Protestants, including Pentecostals and fundamentalists, "tend to be more insular and are more likely to reject science and health-related resources," researchers concluded.

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