Social Conditions and Infant Mortality in China: A Test of the Fundamental Cause Perspective

Shige Song, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The fundamental cause argument represents a distinctively sociological approach to explaining persistent social disparities in health across a range of socio-historical contexts. We elaborate and test this U.S.-based argument using representative survey data from China covering births from 1970 to 2001, and focusing on social disparities in infant mortality over a period of dramatic change. Our results show that despite the massive changes, the increasing use of medical pregnancy care and the steady decline in the infant mortality level, disparities in infant mortality by mother’s education and urban/rural residence remained largely unchanged. More educated women were increasingly likely to take advantage of the newly-available prenatal care and delivery assistance facilities, while urban women maintained a stable advantage over rural women. This differential utilization of highly-effective maternal care technology has maintained disparities in infant mortality over a period of major social and technological change, providing support for the fundamental cause argument.

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Presented in Session 146: Socioeconomic Differentials in Health and Mortality: Methodological Contributions