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Race Disparities in Low Birth Weight in the U.S. South and the Rest of the Nation

Lenna Nepomnyaschy

Social Science and Medicine
January 2010
There are well-documented and as yet unexplained disparities in birth outcomes by race in the USA. This paper examines the sources of disparities in low birth weight between blacks and whites in the US, by focusing on differences in disparities between two very distinct geographic areas, the Deep South and the rest of the country. Two findings from prior research drive the analyses: first, health overall is worse in the Deep South states; second, race disparities are smaller in the Deep South than in the rest of the nation. A number of potential explanations for these findings are examined using nationally representative data on approximately 8,000 children born in the US in 2001. Results suggest that, first, almost all of the increased burden of low birth weight in the Deep South states may be explained by differences in race composition and socioeconomic status between the Deep South and rest of the nation. Second, the slightly lower race disparities found in the Deep South states are being driven not by better outcomes for black mothers, but by two other factors: higher returns to socioeconomic status for black mothers and much worse outcomes for poor white mothers in the Deep South compared with the rest of the country.

Lenna Nepomnyaschy. "Race Disparities in Low Birth Weight in the U.S. South and the Rest of the Nation." Social Science and Medicine, 2010.