OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is the fifth worst place to have a baby.
That’s according to an analysis by the personal finance website WalletHub, which probed a variety of measures including infant mortality rates, access to health care, the cost of having children, food security and how baby- and family-friendly states are.
According to the analysis, Oklahoma overall ranked 47th out of 51. Only Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana ranked worse. Vermont, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Minnesota were the best states to have a baby.
Oklahoma ranked among the costliest places to have a child, had one of the worst health care rankings and was among the least family-friendly, the analysis found. It did rank in the Top 25 for “baby friendliness,” which looked at topics like parental leave policies, the number of mom’s groups per capita and birth rates.
The analysis noted that Oklahoma has the 47th highest infant mortality rate and the fewest midwives and OB-GYNs per capita in the country.
“That doesn’t surprise me, not one bit,” said Joe Dorman, CEO of the Institute for Child Advocacy.
He said all one has to do is look at the quality of health care and day care access, the state’s failure to expand insurance coverage for the working poor, the financial struggles many Oklahomans face and vaccination numbers.
“What business in their right mind would want to move to Oklahoma with the lousy ratings that we have?” he said. “This falls right in line with the governor’s calls to be a Top 10 state. The only way we’re going to be a Top 10 state is to address the problems. Nobody is going to want to move their families and their kids to a state that sucks when it comes to taking care of kids, and unfortunately our rankings suck.”
Karina Shreffler, a professor with Oklahoma State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Science, said WalletHub focused heavily on the financial pieces that shape a couple’s decision to have children.
She was one of the sources the website contacted to provide expert advice and guidance.
She said even though the number of babies born is declining nationwide, Oklahoma ranked 12th from the top in the number born.
“So even though there may be some barriers that may discourage childbearing, we are still near the top in the number of children that women are having,” Shreffler said.
That shows that finances aren’t the only significant consideration for Oklahomans, she said.
“I think the financial component is very important, and on an individual decision-making basis that there are driving issues that couples are thinking about when they’re planning a baby, (but) I just think there’s an additional piece that’s not being captured,” Shreffler said.
That includes the societal and cultural environment, she said.
“I think there’s a cultural component of the role or the value of children in society or an emotional component in terms of what children provide to families and society,” she said.
Shreffler said Oklahoma has a lot of broad societal issues like high poverty levels, which is why the state ranks low on analyses like WalletHub. But, low-cost things can be done to make communities more family-friendly like offering parks and recreational activities and integrating schools into neighborhoods.
Those things can occur while the state leaders weigh major shifts in governance and policies as they try to tackle some of the complex social issues, she said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health, meanwhile, continues to address infant mortality rates.
Reducing preterm births, increasing breastfeeding rates, preventing infant injuries and making sure babies have a safe place to sleep are among several ongoing initiatives, said Jill Nobles-Botkin, administrative program manager for perinatal and reproductive health.
Nobles-Botkin said she’s also focused on reducing maternal mortality. The state ranks at the bottom for that, too.
Since the state launched its infant mortality initiative in 2007, the death rate is down 17 percent, she said.
“Of course, a lot of other states are working on it, too, so that doesn’t move us up that ranking as quickly as we would like,” she said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.