New Report Exposes Racism in Health Outcomes for Infants and Mothers

In California: The Number of Infants who Die Before their First Birthday (2007 to 2016)

Out of 100,000 white mothers:

173 infants born to the richest 10% .

350 infants born to the poorest 10%.

Out of 100,000 Black mothers:

437 infants born to the richest 10%.

653 infants born to the poorest 10%.

It may not be a surprise that compared to other industrially developed countries, the U.S. is a dangerous place to have or be a newborn, nor that Black mothers and babies have the worst childbirth outcomes in the United States.

But a new landmark study is the first of its size to show how Black families, regardless of their socioeconomic status, suffer disproportionately.

This study, based on census data in California and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, includes almost all the babies born to first time moms from 2007 to 2016 in California and combines income tax data with birth, death and hospitalization records from the Census Bureau.

Premature infants born to the poorest 10% of parents are more likely to die than premature infants born into the wealthiest 10% of families. However, Black mothers and children do not benefit from the advantage of being rich as far as mortality rates go. It turns out that, according to the study, the maternal mortality rate of Black mothers is similar to that of the poorest white mothers. This was true for the infant mortality rate as well.

And California’s mortality rates for mothers and infants has been going down, while in the rest of the U.S. they have been rising, suggesting that the situation in California is better than elsewhere in the U.S.

Why is this? Racism runs through the society like a cancer at every level. There is evidence that in the healthcare system mothers are treated differently and receive different access to interventions depending on their race. Another striking study shows that Black infants are more likely to survive if their doctors are Black – more evidence that Black patients don’t get the highest quality care from white doctors. Researchers also believe that contributing factors include the stress of experiencing racism; air pollution in Black communities; and inequitable access to paid family leave. All of these have been found to affect the health of babies and their mothers.

All of these health outcomes and inequities are the legacy of a long history of capitalism that benefited first from the slave trade, and then and now from the continued exploitation and criminalization of the Black population. It continues to leave its violent and harmful mark on everyday life today.