My colleague Steve Carmody reported yesterday on a new study looking at the social factors at play in Michigan's higher-than-average infant mortality rate. This is a topic we've been discussing on State of Opportunity pretty much since the project began, and our own Jennifer Guerra produced an award-winning documentary last year on the racial disparities in infant mortality.
And if you haven't followed this reporting, let me get right to the point of it all: Researchers and public health experts now believe things like poverty and racism are literally killing babies.
It's a strong claim, but it comes from a strong, and growing, body of research. For an overview, you should definitely check out Jennifer's documentary linked above. But if you just want a quick glance at the latest evidence, you can look at the results from the new Michigan Health Equity Status Report released yesterday.
Here, then are eight charts from the report:
Results from the 2010 Michigan Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) show what most of us already assume: Black mothers are more likely to feel they've been treated differently because of their race, and are more likely to be upset or stressed as a result. A strong body of research has shown this stress can lead to health problems, including problems in pregnancy.
Mothers from minority racial groups in Michigan are also more likely to experience other types of stressors, such as violence. These stressors are more common for mothers living in poverty, another risk factor that overlaps with race to contribute to the infant mortality problem.
Poverty can affect an infant's mortality risk even when the mother has a solid income. If the mother lives in a neighborhood with high poverty, the risk of infant death is higher. This chart shows the risk of infant mortality rises along with the poverty rate in different neighborhoods.
But poverty rates don't affect all mothers equally. Black mothers in high-poverty neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to lose a baby as white mothers in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Even the mother's education level isn't enough to explain the racial disparities in infant death. The racial gap in mortality rates is actually higher for mothers with more education.
Researchers have also measured differences in infant sleep arrangements based on the race of the mother. Here, the Michigan Health Equity Status Report finds that black mothers are more than twice as likely as white mothers to report that their babies share a bed. That might be because ...
... white mothers are more likely to have a crib for their baby to sleep in.
There are also stark differences in prenatal care for mothers of different races. The Michigan Health Equity Status Report shows that nearly a third of black mothers say they didn't get prenatal care as early in their pregnancy as they wanted. One in six black mothers said it was because they didn't know they were pregnant. One in eight said it was because they couldn't get an appointment. One in 20 said they didn't have transportation or enough money to get prenatal care.
These eight charts, and this latest report, are not the definitive evidence to prove the connection between infant death and racism, or infant death and economic inequality. But they do add to a really large body of empirical evidence that makes the connection. This evidence is the reason why public health experts talk more and more about things like "the social determinants of health" when they discuss these statistics.
To learn more, check out our previous coverage.