Racial differences in birth outcomes: the role of general, pregnancy, and racism stress

Health Psychol. 2008 Mar;27(2):194-203. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.2.194.


Objective: This study examined the role of psychosocial stress in racial differences in birth outcomes.

Design: Maternal health, sociodemographic factors, and 3 forms of stress (general stress, pregnancy stress, and perceived racism) were assessed prospectively in a sample of 51 African American and 73 non-Hispanic White pregnant women.

Main outcome measures: The outcomes of interest were birth weight and gestational age at delivery. Only predictive models of birth weight were tested as the groups did not differ significantly in gestational age.

Results: Perceived racism and indicators of general stress were correlated with birth weight and tested in regression analyses. In the sample as a whole, lifetime and childhood indicators of perceived racism predicted birth weight and attenuated racial differences, independent of medical and sociodemographic control variables. Models within each race group showed that perceived racism was a significant predictor of birth weight in African Americans, but not in non-Hispanic Whites.

Conclusions: These findings provide further evidence that racism may play an important role in birth outcome disparities, and they are among the first to indicate the significance of psychosocial factors that occur early in the life course for these specific health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / ethnology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Birth Weight*
  • Black People / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / ethnology
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / psychology
  • Personality Inventory
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / ethnology
  • Prejudice*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • White People / psychology*