The UK has dropped several ranks in the European Union rankings of child mortality since 1990, recent analysis of WHO1 and ONS data2 has found.

What is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal?

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.


By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.

The data for both indicators show that although the UK met the global target some 40 years ago, the rate of improvement has slowed compared with other EU countries, which are making faster progress. The Department of Health committed to halving the rate of stillbirths and infant deaths in England by 2030.

Neonatal mortality

The neonatal mortality rate indicates the probability of dying in the first 28 days of life. In 1990, the UK was seventh in the European Union with a neonatal mortality rate of 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Germany, Sweden, France, Finland, Luxembourg and Denmark were ahead of the UK with lower neonatal mortality rates. The worst performing countries were Romania, Hungary and Estonia, which had neonatal mortality rates of 13.5, 13.6 and 13.8 respectively.

Yet by 2015, Estonia had managed to overtake the UK, coming in at fifth place with a rate of 1.5, while the UK was pushed back to 19th with a slightly higher rate of 2.7. Other countries with a similar neonatal mortality rate to the UK include Croatia (2.6) , Lithuania and Denmark (both at 2.5), and Spain (2.8).

Neonatal mortality rankings, European Union countries, 1990 to 2015

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Out of all 28 European Union countries, the UK made less progress in these 25 years than all of them, apart from Germany and France.

Under-five mortality

The under-five mortality rate is the probability of dying between birth and five years of age per 1,000 live births.

In 1990, the UK was ninth out of all European Union countries, with an under-five mortality rate of 9.3. Other countries ahead of the UK included Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. The countries with the highest rates were Romania (37.7), Bulgaria (22.1) and Latvia (20.4).

As of 2015, the UK is 20th with a rate of 4.5. In this time, Estonia had again risen in the rankings compared with the UK, reducing its under-five mortality rate from 20.2 to 2.9. It also outpaced the Netherlands and Sweden, which in 2015 had rates of 3.8 and 3.0 respectively.

Countries with a similar under-five mortality rate to the UK in 2015 include Greece (4.6) and France and Croatia, which (both 4.3).

Under-five mortality rankings, European Union countries, 1990 to 2015

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Out of all 28 European Union countries, the UK made less progress in under-five mortality than all other countries, apart from Malta.

Global child mortality rates

How does the UK compare to other countries globally? We're one of 110 countries that have met the global target of fewer than 12 deaths per 1,000 live births for neonatal mortality. For under-five mortality, we are one of 114 countries who have reached the global target of fewer than 25 deaths per 1,000 live births. While progress has been made globally, and many countries now have very low child mortality rates, lots more will need to be done to meet the global target.

San Marino has the lowest neonatal mortality rate (0.7) although as it is so small it is to be expected. Iceland is second lowest (0.9). Angola has the highest rate (48.7).

Luxembourg - also a small country - has the lowest under-five mortality rate (1.9) and Iceland has the second lowest (2). Again, Angola has the highest rate of under-five mortality (156.9).

Have a look at our interactive to see how individual country rates have changed over time.

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About the Sustainable Development Goals

The UK agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, along with 192 other UN member states. These countries all committed to work towards ending hunger and poverty, halting climate change and reducing inequalities. In the run-up to the UK’s first publication around Sustainable Development Goals, due 9 November 2017, we're publishing a series that looks at some of the major goals, and how the UK is performing in meeting them.


  1. WHO states that the mortality rates on the Global Health Observatory have been estimated by applying methods to all Member States to the available data from Member States, that aim to ensure comparability of across countries and time; hence they are not necessarily the same as the official national data.
  2. WHO data has been used for international comparisons, except the UK, where ONS data has been used to ensure that figures reported here align with the data on our national reporting platform (to be launched shortly).  There may be instances where WHO data differs to other countries' official national data due to their estimations on forecasting and adjustments. Although WHO data for the UK differs slightly to ONS data, the picture of the UK remains more or less the same.