Infant Mortality and Racial Disparities in Milwaukee

Milwaukee has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation and the numbers are particularly staggering for black women in the city.

Income and education fail to account for the racial disparity in Milwaukee’s infant mortality rates.

Blacks across the socioeconomic spectrum have higher infant mortality rates than whites.

The infant mortality rate for a child born to a black woman in the highest tier is about the same as the rate for a child born to a white woman in the lowest tier.

The infant mortality rate for babies born to a black woman in the middle tier is three times the rate for babies born to white women in the same tier.

It is not clear why.

“I’ve been working on this for 20 years,” Mason said, “and just when you think you’ve figured it out – whoosh! – it’s gone.”

A growing field of research suggests that the chronic stress of living in poverty or with barriers associated with low educational attainment increases the risk of the leading cause of infant mortality: preterm birth and low birth weight.

Research also shows that the experience of racial or ethnic discrimination deepens stress and further increases the risk of preterm or low birth weight.

A novel study published in 2006 vividly illustrates this theory.

Diane S. Lauderdale, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Chicago, wanted to know whether poor birth outcomes increased for women of Arab-origin after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Lauderdale looked at all California birth certificates for 2001, 2002 and 2003. She identified more than 15,000 mothers with Arabic last names.

Prior to 9-11, she discovered, women with Arabic last names had the same low birth weight rate as non-Hispanic white women.

But in the six months after 9-11, the chances of having a low birth weight child increased 34%.

The risk of bearing low birth weight babies, she found, did not increase for any other ethnic group.

Read the whole thing here: For Milwaukee’s children, an early grave.

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