Adverse birth outcomes in African American women: the social context of persistent reproductive disadvantage

Soc Work Public Health. 2011;26(1):3-16. doi: 10.1080/10911350902986880.


African Americans have the highest rates of infant mortality and adverse birth outcomes of all major racial/ethnic groups in the United States. The long-standing nature of this disparity suggests the need to shift epidemiologic focus from individual-level risk factors to the larger social forces that shape disease risk in populations. In this article, the African American reproductive disadvantage is discussed within the context of American race relations. The review of the literature focuses on racism as a social determinant of race-based disparities in adverse birth outcomes with specific attention to the viability of genetic explanations, the role of socioeconomic factors, the multidimensional nature of racism, and the stress-induced physiologic pathways by which racism may negatively affect pregnancy. Implications for social work research and practice also are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality / ethnology*
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Prejudice*
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology
  • Premature Birth / ethnology*
  • Premature Birth / psychology
  • Prenatal Care / psychology
  • Prenatal Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Health Practice
  • Social Work
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • United States