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January 20, 2005

Maternal Childbirth Mortality Hazards

In the age of the wireless internet, cafe arguments about the size of contemporary childbirth maternal mortality hazards can be settled definitively and in real time:

One woman dead in childbirth every minute... 1440 a day... 500000 a year... undercount by 50%.... 750000 a year divide by 1.5 billion third-world women... multiply by life expectancy... a third-world woman has a three percent lifetime chance of dying in childbirth.

Posted by DeLong at January 20, 2005 12:47 PM


How can one settle a cafe argument with a claim of "undercount by 50%?" That's precisely why these arguments don't get settled. (n.b. Of course I know childbirth death i still a big problem.)

[We're just looking for a ballpark number here...]

Posted by: paulo at January 20, 2005 01:19 PM

But then you deny yourself the liberating joy of a factually ungrounded bull argument. Those can be great fun.

Posted by: Julian Elson at January 20, 2005 01:42 PM

Wait, aren't we creating an artificially low stat here? Shouldn't we only be factoring in the number of women of child bearing age in the third world (say, 13-45)? Because that's the only "lifetime" over which the risk really matters. And even if you're doing it your way, the life expectancy stat is artifically low due to deaths of kids under five...

Um, this is why I get thrown out of cafes. It's always the math.

Posted by: theorajones at January 20, 2005 02:10 PM

So, any comments on your coauthor and mentor, the new Galileo?

I'm very sad to see him roasted over the coals by the new Inquisition. Free inquiry is taking a big hit this week. But what's the best way to respond?

Just one idea: How about "Eppur si muove" as a banner on the top of your website? Just an idea!

Posted by: Garett Jones at January 20, 2005 04:05 PM

Something seems missing here, like context. Who are we talking about?

A recent discussion I saw made the claim that traditional childbirth was less risky than modern medically-assisted childbirth. It turns out that he was using data from 1921, which was pre-antibiotics and pre-lots-of-good-things. I think that an argument can be made that the move from midwivery to scientific medical obstetrics and hospital birth, starting around 1700, did more harm than good. After all, science didn't even have a concept of sterility then. And a good argument can also be made that home birth today is better than hospital birth for normal births with no special risk factors.

Posted by: John Emerson at January 21, 2005 07:45 AM

Maternal mortality was in the neighbor of half a percent or less (per birth) in the good old days. It increased tremendously in the nineteenth century due to medical mistakes (could exceed 10%). As medicine bcame real, things improved, eventually resulting in maternal mortality of about one in ten thousand in advanced countries.

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