What does skin color have to do with infant health? An analysis of low birth weight among mainland and island Puerto Ricans

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Jul;61(2):379-91. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.029. Epub 2005 Apr 7.


This study investigates the relationship between maternal skin tone and low birth weight among Puerto Ricans, a group with a complex ancestry and skin tones that range from very light to very dark. Using data from a representative sample of Puerto Rican mothers, we assess whether skin tone has different implications for low birth weight in three geographic areas (Puerto Rico; New York City; other eastern states). The analysis shows that skin tone is unrelated to low birth weight in Puerto Rico and New York City. However, in the other eastern states in our sample, mothers with dark skin have a high risk of bearing a low birth-weight infant, relative to mothers with light skin. We interpret our findings in light of differences in the social meaning of phenotypic differences across locales.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • New York City
  • Prejudice
  • Prenatal Care
  • Puerto Rico / ethnology
  • Skin Pigmentation*