David Braudt, an incoming postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute for Behavioral Science, became interested in sociology listening to stories about his two half-brothers, who died in accidents as a toddler and teenager.
His mother, he said, never seemed to fully recover from the losses, and Braudt eventually left home at 15 to avoid abusive stepfathers.
His experience inspired him to study how socioeconomic factors impact children’s survival rates, and he hopes the results will lead to policy changes that could save children’s lives.
The study, published this month in “Maternal and Child Health Journal,” found that children who grow up with less-educated parents, single parents or below the poverty line are at greater risk of dying young — between the ages of 1 and 24.
The youth mortality rate in the United States is 55% higher than the average of 19 other developed countries, according to the researchers of the study.
“Generally speaking, the U.S. lags behind every single other high technology, high income country in the world when it comes to mortality. It’s ridiculous,” Braudt said, adding that at the same time, “the U.S. spends more per capita on health insurance than any of those countries.”
While Braudt’s mother had a college degree and worked as a teacher, his family experienced the absence of a father figure. He started to realize other kids’ lives weren’t like his own, Braudt said, and he wanted to see if there was a pattern to his family’s experiences.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Nevada Las Vegas as well as CU Boulder, used a national health data set to draw its conclusions, said Richard Rogers, a professor of sociology at CU Boulder.
The survey followed about 377,000 children from 1998 through 2015. More than 2,000 of those children died in that time frame, many from unintentional injuries.
The socioeconomic factors the researchers looked at had independent effects, Rogers said, but also were interconnected. If a parent has higher education, they usually earn more or have occupations with benefits like health insurance, which can help a whole family. If parents have more money, they can buy homes in safer areas. If they are a two-parent household, they may be better able to watch their children and prevent accidents.
For example, children whose fathers didn’t graduate from high school are 41% more likely to die in their youth than those of college-educated fathers.
“We hope with this more people will start looking at different social and health policies to improve the health of children,” Rogers said.
Children don’t have a say in what circumstances they grow up in, Braudt said.
He hopes that the study shows “how downstream effects of policies can literally save the lives of the most vulnerable population in the U.S.”
“If we really care about extending American life expectancy, if we really care about closing that gap in terms of life expectancy, we should focus on (youth),” Braudt said.