Published on Data Blog

Global child mortality rate dropped 49% since 1990

The under-5 mortality rate worldwide has fallen by 49% since 1990, according to new child mortality estimates and press release launched today. This information is also summarized in the report Levels and Trends in Child Mortality 2014 by the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).  Put another way, about 17,000 fewer children under-5 died each day in 2013 than in 1990.

These rates are falling faster than at any other time during the past two decades: from a 1.2% annual reduction during 1990-1995 to a 4% reduction during 2005-2013. 

More children making it to their fifth birthday
The major improvements in under-5 child survival since 1990 are attributable to better access to affordable, quality health care, as well as the expansion of health programs that reach the most vulnerable newborns and children.

The 49% drop – from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 46 deaths in 2013 – means that a baby born today has a dramatically better chance of survival to age 5 compared with a baby born in 1990.   

More progress needed to achieve the global Millennium Development Goal 4 target
Four out of 6 World Bank Group regions are on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4), which is to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are two regions where the rates of decline remain insufficient to reach MDG 4 on a global scale.  In 2013, the highest under-5 mortality rate was in Sub-Saharan Africa, where there were 92 deaths per 1,000 live births or where 1 in 11 children die before reaching the age of 5.

Chart 1

Other findings in the report:

  • Of the 60 countries identified as "high-mortality countries" – with at least 40 under-5 deaths for every 1,000 live births – 8 have already reached or surpassed the MDG 4 target (67% reduction). These countries are Malawi (72%), Bangladesh (71%), Liberia (71%), Tanzania (69%), Ethiopia (69%), Timor-Leste (68%), Niger (68%), and Eritrea (67%).
  • Two countries, India (21%) and Nigeria (13%), account for more than one-third of deaths among children below 5 years old.  While Sub-Saharan Africa has cut under-5 mortality rates by 48% since 1990, the region still has the world's highest under-5 mortality rate – 92 deaths per 1,000 live births – nearly 15 times the average in high-income countries.
  • Children born in Angola, which has the highest under-5 mortality rate in the world (167 deaths per 1,000 live births), are 84 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children born in Luxembourg, which has the lowest rate (2 deaths per 1,000 live births).  

Reducing child deaths comparatively slower in Sub-Saharan Africa
The world has also made significant progress in reducing the number of child deaths. The number of children who died before reaching age 5 has declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013, with reductions seen in each region.

The number of child deaths has been falling in every region. However, the share of child deaths continues to increase in Sub-Saharan Africa due to the region's comparatively higher mortality (a higher risk of dying per child) and higher fertility (a higher increase in the number of children born) levels.  Roughly 48% of all child deaths in the world occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, compared to 30% in 1990.

Chart 2

ImageThe United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that by 2050, close to 40% of all births will take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, and that 37% of children under age 5 will live there.  It is projected that the number of children under age 5 will keep increasing in this region until 2050, while the number of children will decrease in other regions.  The number of under-five deaths may stagnate or even increase without more progress in the region.

The leading causes of children under 5 deaths are pre-term birth complications (17%), pneumonia (15%), complications during labor and delivery (11%), diarrhea (9%), and malaria (7%).  Under-nutrition contributes to nearly half of all under-five deaths.

A closer look at neonatal mortality rates
The neonatal mortality (the first 28 days of life) rate fell from 33 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 20 in 2013.  The number of neonatal deaths declined from 4.7 million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2013.  However, the decline in neonatal mortality over 1990–2013 has been slower than that of post-neonatal mortality (1 - 59 months): 40%, compared with 56% (and 49% for overall under-5 mortality), a pattern consistent across all six World Bank Group regions.

The share of neonatal deaths among overall under-5 deaths has increased from 37% in 1990 to 44% in 2013.  Because the decline in the neonatal mortality rate is slower than those in the post-neonatal mortality rate, the report points to the importance of addressing this area more effectively.

Chart 3

Efforts to produce reliable and transparent child mortality estimates
These new estimates were released by the UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME), which includes UNICEF, World Health Organization, the World Bank Group and United Nations Population Division.  The UN IGME was formed in 2004 to share data on child mortality, harmonize estimates within the UN system, improve methods for child mortality estimation, and to report on progress towards the MDGs.

All data, estimates, and details on UN IGME methods are available on the Child Mortality Estimates (CME Info) website at The new UN IGME child mortality estimates are also available in World Bank Development Data Group's World Development Indicators and the HealthStats databases.

Indicators and codes used in this post:
Mortality rate, under-5 (per 1,000) SH.DYN.MORT
Mortality rate, under-5, male (per 1,000) SH.DYN.MORT.MA
Mortality rate, under-5, female (per 1,000)  SH.DYN.MORT.FE
Mortality rate, neonatal (per 1,000 live births) SH.DYN.NMRT
Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births)  SP.DYN.IMRT.IN
Mortality rate, infant, male (per 1,000 live births) SP.DYN.IMRT.MA.IN
Mortality rate, infant, female (per 1,000 live births) SP.DYN.IMRT.FE.IN
Number of under-five deaths SH.DTH.MORT
Number of infant deaths SH.DTH.IMRT
Number of neonatal deaths  SH.DTH.NMRT
Male population 0-4 SP.POP.0004.MA
Female population 0-4 SP.POP.0004.FE


Emi Suzuki

Demographer, Development Data Group, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000