Low birthweight (LBW) and preterm birth are primary risk factors for infant morbidity and mortality in the US. With increasing multiple births and delayed childbearing, it is important to examine the separate contributions of these characteristics to the increases in LBW and preterm birth rates. US natality records from 1981, 1990 and 1998 were used to calculate LBW (% births <1500, 1500-2499, <2500 g) and preterm (% births <29, 29-32, 33-36, <37 weeks gestation) rates. Data were stratified by maternal race (black or white) and plurality (singleton vs. multiple birth). LBW and preterm rates among singletons were adjusted for maternal age to examine the influence of demographic shifts on LBW trends. From 1981 to 1998, LBW increased 12% among white infants, but remained relatively stable among black infants. During the same time, preterm birth increased 23% among white infants compared with 3% among black infants. For both black and white infants, the increase in LBW and preterm births was greater among multiple births than among singletons. Adjustment for maternal age did not reduce the temporal increase in LBW or preterm birth among singletons. Black infants continue to experience a markedly higher incidence of LBW and preterm birth, but the racial gap in these outcomes has narrowed slightly in recent years as a result of increasing LBW and preterm birth among white births. The differing trends for white and black infants are the consequence of a disparate trend in the incidence and outcome of multiple births coupled with increases in LBW and preterm birth among white singletons. Understanding the differential patterns in birth outcomes among white and black infants is necessary to develop effective interventions designed to decrease racial disparities in pregnancy outcome.