babies health kids policy

A demographic look at the State of Babies Yearbook 2019

A summary of the State of Babies Yearbook 2019 report and a chart comparing key scores from the report with basic political and economic indicators.

This text appears over a photo of a smiling Black toddler with an adult smiling and clapping behind her.  "Babies are born with unlimited potential. For the 12 million infants and toddlers in the United States, the state where they are born and live during their first three years makes a big difference in their chance for a strong start in life. The littlest among us face big challenges, and we can’t afford to squander the potential of a single child."
Source: State of Babies Yearbook 2019

Nonprofits Zero to Three and Child Trends just dropped a motherlode of data on the wellbeing of babies and toddlers, on both a state-by-state and national level in the U.S. Their State of Babies Yearbook 2019 delves into data across three broad domains: health, families, and early learning.

A table that displays the following text: ZERO TO THREE’s policy framework, grounded in the science of early childhood development, promotes supports for infants and toddlers’ healthy development in three domains: Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences. These domains form the basis for the indicators in the State of Babies Yearbook: 2019.

*Good Health:
Health Care Access/Affordability Food Security
Nutrition
Maternal Health
Child Health
Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

*Strong Families:
Basic Needs Support
Child Welfare
Home Visiting
Supportive Policies/Paid Leave

*Positive Early Learning Experiences:
Early Care and Education Opportunities Early Intervention and Prevention Services
When babies and toddlers do not have the supports they need to thrive, their development can suffer, leading to lifelong consequences.
Source: State of Babies Yearbook 2019

In each domain, they’ve gathered analyzed a range of data points that provide a snapshot of how babies and families are doing. Some of the factors are direct measures of policies (such as the percent of income-eligible children who have access to Head Start programs), while others are the more complex result of social, economic, and family circumstances (such as the percent of babies whose parents sing and read to them each day). These factors are summarized in a score for each of the three domains. Here’s a page from the resulting report card for California:

A page from the State of Babies Yearbook 2019 PDF that shows the scores for California for Good Health and Strong Families, accompanied by textual analysis.
Source: State of Babies Yearbook 2019

The State of Babies project summarizes each state’s progress in each domain with a score of G (Getting Started), R (Reaching Forward), O (Improving Outcomes), or W (Working Efficiently). In other words, it’s a simple 1-4 scale and a convenient data point to be compared with other factors. So I wanted to see how these indicators of baby and toddler wellbeing compared with basic political and economic factors.

To measure how politically left- or right-leaning each state is, I used data aggregated by Gallup from their 2018 tracking poll, in which respondents were asked whether their political views as liberal, moderate, or conservative. Gallup then creates a “Conservative Advantage” number that is the gap between the percent who identify as conservative and those who identify as liberal. Median household income from the 2015 U.S. Census is used as an indicator of the economic wellbeing of families in each state.

The results are in the chart below. A score of “1” in the State of Babies sections indicates the best conditions for babies, and “4” the worst. For the Conservative Advantage, higher numbers reflect more conservative politics, and lower/negative numbers reflect more liberal politics.

A heatmap chart that shows the three scores from the State of Babies alongside the 'conservative advantage' score from Gallup and median household income, for each state. States are sorted from strongest to weakest State of Babies scores.

The overall trend is that greater wellbeing for babies and toddlers is associated with both more liberal politics and higher median household incomes. A few other points that stand out at a glance:

  • Vermont and Rhode Island both received top State of Babies scores, even though their median household incomes aren’t quite as high as the other states with top scores.
  • Iowa looks like an overachiever in baby care, receiving top scores in both Strong Families and Early Learning, while its politics and median incomes are middle-of-the road.
  • Conversely, Nevada looks like an underachiever in baby care, receiving the lowest scores on all three measures, while its politics and income are both relatively moderate.
  • California is doing well on Good Health and Strong Families, but received the lowest score on Early Learning. The report notes that this “reflects the state’s more burdensome infant care costs as a percentage of single and married parents’ incomes, and its lower percentage of parents who read to and sing songs to their babies daily, when compared to most other states.”
  • Baby and toddler wellbeing indicators tend to trend together, but not always. California, North Carolina, Idaho, New Mexico, and Kentucky all received the lowest score in at least one area while receiving the highest score in another.
  • Alaska is an outlier in a few ways, presumably because of its unique geography, climate, and culture: it has a high income but is quite conservative, and its Strong Families score is high but the others are middle of the road.

This is just a first read, and there’s a ton more data in the Babies Yearbook 2019, which you can access as an interactive or a PDF. They even provide a toolkit if you want to use the data to ask your state and federal lawmakers to make policy changes.

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

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