Religion and Infant Mortality in the U.S.: A Preliminary Study of Denominational Variations
Prior research has identified a number of antecedents to infant mortality, but has been focused on either structural (demographic) forces or medical (public health) factors, both of which ignore potential cultural influences. Our study introduces a cultural model for explaining variations in infant mortality, one focused on the role of community-level religious factors. A key impetus for our study is well-established religious variations in adult mortality at the community level. Seeking to extend the growing body of research on contextual-level effects of religion, this study examines the impact of religious ecology (i.e., the institutional market share of particular denominational traditions) on county-level infant mortality in the U.S. Analyses of congregational census and Kids Count data reveal that a high prevalence of Catholic and most types of conservative Protestant churches are associated with lower rates of infant mortality when compared with counties that feature fewer Catholic and conservative Protestant congregations. However, communities with a large proportion of Pentecostal churches exhibit significantly higher infant mortality rates. After discussing the implications of these findings, we specify various directions for future research.