Injury in children of low-income Mexican, Mexican American, and non-Hispanic white mothers in the USA: a focused ethnography

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Apr;52(7):1081-91. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00215-x.


Several studies indicate that rates of serious pediatric injury are higher among Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites in the USA. To investigate possible contributory factors, we interviewed 50 Mexican, 30 Mexican American, and 30 non-Hispanic white mothers in their own homes in the same low-income neighborhoods of Southern California. Mothers were identified via door-to-door canvassing in areas with high rates of pediatric injury. We observed household conditions and behaviors and obtained a detailed family history, including accounts of any occurrence of serious injury in a child under 5 years old, the highest-risk age group for pediatric injury. Results show that Mexican families were poorer, less educated, and lived in more hazardous and crowded conditions than did families in the other two groups. Nevertheless, they benefited from strong family bonds and a cultural tradition in which responsible older children typically supervise younger siblings. In contrast, a number of Mexican American and white mothers had been abused as children and were estranged from their own mothers; hence they lacked support and models of good parenting. There was much less self-reported smoking, drug use, and mental dysfunction among the Mexican mothers and their male partners as well as much less excessively active and/or aggressive behavior among their children. The nature of the injuries reported by the various groups seemed to reflect these differences. Appropriate interventions for each group are discussed. The study illustrates the importance of using ethnographic methods to examine the context of pediatric injury at the household level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • California / epidemiology
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mexican Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mothers
  • Poverty / ethnology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*