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Highly educated Black women experience poorer birth outcomes

Black mothers with a master’s or doctorate degree experienced some of the worst birth outcomes, compared to Black mothers with less education and white mothers with the same or less education, according to a new study. The research will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2023 Meeting, held April 27-May 1 in Washington, D.C.

Researchers examined how educational achievement and race affected preterm births and low birth weights for babies born to non-Hispanic Black and white women over the age of 25. The study used birth certificate records obtained from the Ohio Department of Health within Franklin County, Ohio from 2016 to 2021.

As education increased, the Black-White racial disparities in birth outcomes worsened. More than 10% of Black mothers with a master’s degree or doctorate had a preterm or very preterm birth, compared to less than 6% of white mothers with the same level of education. Low birth weight was more common for babies born to Black individuals with an advanced degree (9.58%), compared to white individuals (3.56%) with a master’s degree or doctorate.

According to the study, Black mothers with an advanced degree had similar outcomes (10.39% preterm or very preterm birth; 9.58% low birth weight) to white mothers with a high school degree (10.48% preterm or very preterm birth; 8.26% low birth weight).

Chart: Percent Preterm/Very Preterm Birth & Low Birth Weight, by Race and Education:

Percent Preterm or Very Preterm Birth Percent Low Birth Weight
Non-Hispanic Black Women
< High School 9.37% 8.4%
High School 11.52% 10.6%
Some College 10.99% 10.23%
Bachelor’s Degree 8.61% 7.32%
Master’s or Doctorate Degree 10.93% 9.58%
Non-Hispanic White Women
< High School 15.65% 14.13%
High School 10.48% 8.26%
Some College 8.1% 5.68%
Bachelor’s Degree 5.74% 3.79%
Master’s or Doctorate Degree 5.57% 3.56%

 

“As we continue to grapple with the Black maternal health crisis, the results of this study highlight an overlooked inequity that we must pay attention to,” said Kierra S. Barnett, Ph.D., M.P.H., research scientist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and presenting author. “There is a clear disconnect between the benefits we assume education should have on our health and what educated Black mothers are experiencing in our society.”

Study authors called for additional research to assess alternate factors contributing to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and immediate solutions to minimize the burden on Black families.




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