Infant mortality

1. Key messages

In 2016, the infant mortality rate was 3.2 per thousand live births; this is equal to the average EU-15 rate. Infant mortality has sharply declined over the last decennia in Belgium. Current rates and trends are similar in the three regions.

2. Background

The infant mortality rate measures the mortality of children below 1 year. It reflects both the consequences of perinatal events and the mortality occurring after the perinatal period, which is often preventable. It is highly correlated to the country's level of development, the quality of medical care, preventive services and health promotion interventions.

Higher infant mortality rates in boys than in girls have for long been observed in nearly all countries in the world [1]. The explanation is complex, including important biological and genetic factors as well as environmental and behavioral factors resulting in a persistent mortality difference throughout the infancy and even later [2,3].

Large fluctuations in yearly rates are observed at regional level, due to the small number of infant deaths. Meaningful comparisons of rates and trends by region are therefore best made on smoothed rates. In this overview, we use a moving average over the last 5 years.

Infant mortality rates are sometimes published earlier by international organizations than at national level, as those only publish the national rates. At national level, births and deaths happening in one region must be reassigned to the region of the official residence of the person.

3. Infant mortality rate


In 2016, the infant mortality rate was 3.2 per thousand live births. Infant mortality rates have decreased with 40% between 1998 and 2016 (respective rates were 5.3‰ and 3.2‰).

The infant mortality rate in 2016 was 2.4 per thousand live births in girls and 3.9‰ in boys, corresponding to an absolute gap of 1.6‰ and a sex ratio of 1.7. The gender gaps in mortality rates are fluctuating over time due to small numbers of infant deaths and are particularly high for 2016.

After smoothing, the mortality differences between girls and boys persists (respectively 2.9‰ and 3.9‰).

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by sex, 1998-2016
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by sex, 2002-2016
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

4. Trends and regional disparities

The infant mortality rates in the three regions were similar in 2016: 3.1‰ in Flanders and Brussels and 3.3‰ in Wallonia.

After smoothing, the 2016 infant mortality rates were similar in Flanders and Wallonia (3.5‰), and slightly lower in Brussels (2.9‰); this should however be confirmed on a longer period before concluding to a real difference, since the number of infant deaths in Brussels is very small.

Over time, a strong decline has been observed in all regions. In Brussels, the rate used to be higher than in the other regions until 2009, then declined more sharply.

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by region, 1998-2016
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by region, 2002-2016
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

International comparison

In 2016, the infant mortality rate in Belgium was at the average EU-15 rate (3.2‰).

Infant mortality rate by country of birth, Europe, 2016
Source: OECD Health Data [5]

5. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

SPMA: Standardized Procedures for Mortality Analysis in Belgium


The EU-15 corresponds to all countries that belonged to the European Union between 1995 and 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. We compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-15 because these countries have similar socioeconomic conditions.
Infant mortality rate
The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births in the same year.


  1. UN IGME. United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation; 2018.
  2. Drevenstedt GL, Crimmins EM, Vasunilashorn S, Finch CE. The rise and fall of excess male infant mortality. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2008 Apr 1;105(13):5016-21.
  3. Sidebotham P, Fraser J, Covington T, Freemantle J, Petrou S, Pulikottil-Jacob R, et al. Understanding why children die in high-income countries. Lancet 2014 Sep 6;384(9946):915-27.
  4. Statbel, 1998-2016.
  5. OECD Health Data, 2016.