Racial Disparities Persist

Healthcare in the US, Reflections on racism and oppression in midwifery

Despite the national Healthy People objectives established every ten years for the last three decades by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, maternal and infant health indicators in this country continue to demonstrate a significant need for improvement, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities (Mathews & MacDorman, 2006).  In their call to action to the public health profession, Garcia and Sharif (2015) commented that “the health consequences of living in a racially stratified society are illustrated by a myriad of health outcomes that systematically occur along racial lines, such as disproportionately higher rates of infant mortality” (p. e28).

Two areas of concern, in particular, have been identified as leading health indicators with regard to maternal and infant health in the US: all infant deaths and total preterm live births.  These two health indicators, in addition to many others, provide clear examples of the health disparities faced by people of color in the US.  The rate of infant deaths (within the first year of life) is more than doubled for black or African American babies when compared to white infants (10.8 per 1,000 vs 5.1 per 1,000 in 2013).  Infants of persons identified as American Indian or Alaska Native are also disproportionately affected (7.6 deaths/1,000 live births in 2013) (Mathews & MacDorman, 2006).  While overall infant deaths have been decreasing, the health care disparities outlined above have persisted since at least 2006, the earliest year analysis by race/ethnicity is provided publicly by HealthyPeople.gov.  Preterm birth rates (before 37 completed weeks gestation) are also consistently found to be higher for mothers who are black or African American (16.0%), American Indian or Alaska Native (13.1%), and Hispanic or Latina (11.3%) when compared to white mothers (10.5%) in the US  (data from 2013).  While the causes of health care disparities and inequities are multifactorial, racial disparities are a well-documented factor.

NOTE: The phrase ‘maternal and infant health’ is used above due to its widespread use and recognition in public health literature.  The use of this phrase is not intended to exclude or ignore the health issues faced by transgender and genderqueer persons who may not identify as mothers.


García, J., & Sharif, M. Z. (2015). Black Lives Matter: A commentary on racism and public health. American Journal of Public Health, 105(8), e27-e30. doi://10.2105/AJPH.2015.302706

Mathews T. J., & MacDorman M. F. (2010). Infant mortality statistics from the 2006 period linked birth/infant death data set. National Vital Statistics Report, 58:17, 1-31. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46146499_Infant_mortality_statistics_from_the_2006_period_linked_birthinfant_death_data_set .