Objectives: We explored associations between the abolition of Jim Crow laws (i.e., state laws legalizing racial discrimination overturned by the 1964 US Civil Rights Act) and birth cohort trends in infant death rates.
Methods: We analyzed 1959 to 2006 US Black and White infant death rates within and across sets of states (polities) with and without Jim Crow laws.
Results: Between 1965 and 1969, a unique convergence of Black infant death rates occurred across polities; in 1960 to 1964, the Black infant death rate was 1.19 times higher (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.18, 1.20) in the Jim Crow polity than in the non-Jim Crow polity, whereas in 1970 to 1974 the rate ratio shrank to and remained at approximately 1 (with the 95% CI including 1) until 2000, when it rose to 1.10 (95% CI = 1.08, 1.12). No such convergence occurred for Black-White differences in infant death rates or for White infants.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that abolition of Jim Crow laws affected US Black infant death rates and that valid analysis of societal determinants of health requires appropriate comparison groups.