As I’ve written before, when it comes to infant and maternal mortality, the US is effectively two nations. According to the CDC, the U.S. infant mortality rate for whites is 5.7 per 1000, a rate comparable to Switzerland or Australia. The U.S. infant mortality rate for blacks is 14 per 1000, a rate comparable to Uruguay and Bulgaria. The differences in maternal mortality rates are even more stark – 5.5 per 100,000 for whites, compared to 23.3 per 100,000 for blacks. This means that as far as maternal mortality goes, American whites have nearly the best outcomes in the world – better than Sweden’s – while American Blacks might as well be living in Bulgaria or Saudi Arabia. (I’m using 1995 World Health Organization data, available in word format here, to make this comparison).
Bottom line: If we judge by infant and maternal deaths, African-Americans in the US effectively live in the third world, rather than in the first world. (See this post for some information about infant mortality among other demographic groups in the US.)
Now it turns out that multiple studies have found that experiences of racism are directly correlated with childbearing outcomes. From Kate Orman’s Livejournal:
…Even if you take into consideration other factors such as income, education, and genetics, the Black infant mortality rate in the US is still higher than for other groups. What’s the missing factor? The review article I summarised earlier cited four journal articles which found a link between infant mortality and Black mothers’ personal, direct experience of discrimination.
I was able to get hold of all four journal articles. Let me try my best to summarise them. Very briefly: multiple studies have found that premature birth, and low birthweight, are more likely for African American mothers who report having personally experienced high levels of discrimination.
Here’s Kate’s summary of one of the studies:1
Participants “completed a discrimination questionnaire asking them whether they had ‘ever experienced discrimination, been prevented from doing something or been hassled or made to feel inferior… because of their race or color’ in any of 7 situations: ‘at school, getting a job, at work, getting housing, getting medical care, on the street or in a public setting, and from the police or in the courts.’ Even when other factors (depression, smoking, alcohol, education, income, marital status, etc) were taken into account, for mothers who reported experiencing discrimination in at least three of these situations, premature births were 3.1 times as likely, and low birthweight was 5 times as likely.
The other three studies described seem similar in approach.
I’d be very interested in seeing similar studies conducted regarding discrimination among American Indians, Hawaiians, and Puerto Ricans, all of whom experience above-average infant mortality in the US (although less so than African-Americans).2
There’s a lot of writing about the intersection of reproductive rights and racism, but this isn’t something I’ve seen considered. The mere existence of racism is, in effect, an attack on the reproductive rights of women.
- Sarah Mustillo et al. Self-Reported Experiences of Racial Discrimination and Black-White Differences in Preterm and Low-Birthweight Deliveries: The CARDIA Study. American Journal of Public Health 94(12) December 2004 pp 2125-2131. (Pdf link.) [↩]
- Source: pdf link. [↩]