Child mortality: achieving the global goal for 2030 would be a huge achievement – but we are currently far away

15,000 children die on average every single day. Reducing child mortality is a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What would it take for the world to reach it?

Every country in the world agreed to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).1

Goal 3.2 is to reduce the child mortality rate to at least as low as 2.5% in all countries by 2030. This would mean that more than 97.5% of all newborns would survive the first five years of their life no matter where they are born.

We are currently far away from the goal for 2030. Globally 3.9% of all children die before reaching the age of five, which means that on average 15,000 children die every day.2

And the visualization shows that while the child mortality rate declined around the world there are still many countries in which the mortality rate is higher than 2.5%.

Click to open interactive version

How likely is it that the world reaches SDG 3.2?

The visualization shows five scenarios for the 15-year period of the SDG era to answer this question.

Stagnation in child health would mean 100 million child deaths in the SDG era. The number of births in the world is expected to stagnate between 2015 and 2030 at around 140 million births per year. If we assume the global child mortality rate to remain at the level it was at the beginning of the SDG era (4.5%) then we would live in a world with 6.3 million child deaths every year – 100 million child deaths until 2030.3

Stagnation, however, is not what global health researchers expect. Based on past trends and levels in 2015 the UN Population Division made projections for the number of births and the mortality rate of children in all countries of the world. According to these projections the number of child deaths will be almost two million lower in 2030 than in a stagnating world: 4.5 million child deaths. This improvement of child health would still mean terrible suffering: 86 million child deaths in the SDG era.

And while these UN projections expect a further improvement of global child health this trajectory would fall short of reaching the SDG. The scenario in green shows what it would mean to reach the SDGs. In this scenario I made a projection in which all countries would reduce child mortality to at least 2.5% and meet goal 3.2.4  Reaching the SDG would mean again almost 2 million fewer child deaths when compared with the UN projections.

Some suggest that the UN goals are set in a way that makes them easy to achieve. The motivation is supposedly that the UN defined goals which are easy to reach so that the international organization looks good after achieving them. This is not true. Just how ambitious the child mortality goal is becomes clear when you see it in historical context: The scenario called ‘US path’ shows what would happen to the global child mortality rate if it would follow the decline of child mortality in the US when the US had a mortality rate of 4.5% (in 1946). And the ‘Western Europe path’ plays out what would happen if the world would follow the path Western Europe took when it was at that level.

The SDG goal is much more ambitious than what the richest regions in the world have achieved when they had the same level of child health.

We know that it is possible to change the world. Two hundred years ago the child mortality rate was extremely high around the world – more than 40% of all children died. Since then the child mortality rate has declined more than 10-fold. In ‘The world is much better; The world is awful; The world can be much better‘ I’ve written about how we can think about the big gap between the current state of the world and what we know is possible, and the big gap between the terrible living conditions in the past and the improvements since then. Because we need to further reduce child deaths, we are studying the causes of death of children today and how it was possible to improve child health so very substantially in the past in our entry on child mortality.

We are currently far away from reaching the global goal for child mortality. Achieving it, however, is tremendously important – it would spare millions of families one of the most horrible tragedies anyone can imagine.

If you want to know how we are doing on the other Sustainable Development Goals: We have built to allow everyone to see whether we are reaching the goals or not.


  1. ]In 2015 the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Here is the document.

  2. There is uncertainty in the estimates for the latest level of child mortality. The IGME source used here estimates that in 2015 the child mortality rate was 4.2% while the UN Population Division – which I rely on below – estimated global child mortality in 2015 to be 4.5% [here is the UN data].

    The number of annual child deaths is the global child mortality rate multiplied with the global number of births: 0.0391*140,949,089 = 5,511,109 child deaths

    Child deaths per day: 5,511,109/365= 15,099

    Child deaths per minute: 15,099/24/60= 10.49

    The global child mortality rate is 3.91%

    Total number of births in 2017: 140,949,089

    The number of global births is almost constant, so I have taken the 2017 as the average for the relevant 5-year window.

    Data on the global child mortality rate:

    Data on the number of births:

  3. The average number of deaths per year in a world stagnating at an under-5-mortality-rate of 4.5% would be 6,311,793. Over a 16-year time frame this would mean 100,988,688 child deaths.

  4. For all countries for which the UN projects a child mortality of less than 2.5% I relied on the UN projections. For all countries for which the UN projects a child mortality rate higher than 2.5% however I modeled here what it would look like if the mortality rate would decline to 2.5%. I then multiplied the number of expected births with the mortality rate projections to arrive at the total number of child deaths.

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Max Roser (2019) - “Child mortality: achieving the global goal for 2030 would be a huge achievement – but we are currently far away” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

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    author = {Max Roser},
    title = {Child mortality: achieving the global goal for 2030 would be a huge achievement – but we are currently far away},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2019},
    note = {}
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