Background: More than 1 billion people live in societies where consanguineous marriages are common. When children are born to consanguineous unions, there is an increased probability of the expression of single-gene disorders with a recessive mode of inheritance. There are presumptive social benefits of consanguineous marriages reported in the literature.
Methods: The UK's Born in Bradford birth cohort study recruited 12 453 women at 26-28 weeks' gestation between 2007 and 2010. In all, 11 396 completed a questionnaire, including questions about their relationship to their baby's father. We compared Pakistani and Other ethnic groups in consanguineous relationships and Pakistani, Other and White British groups not in consanguineous relationships, calculating percentages and age-adjusted prevalence ratios (95% confidence intervals).
Results: In the Pakistani group, 59.3% of women (n = 3038) were blood relatives of their baby's father. Consanguinity was uncommon in the Other ethnic group (7.3%, n = 127) and rare (n = 5) in the White British group. Compared with non-consanguineous counterparts, mothers in consanguineous relationships were socially and economically disadvantaged (e.g. never employed, less likely to have higher education). The Pakistani consanguineous group's social, economic and health lifestyle circumstances were equivalent to, in some cases better than, women in non-consanguineous relationships (e.g. up-to-date in paying bills, or in disagreeing that they wished for more warmth in their marital relationship). The consanguineous relationship group had less separation/divorce. Rates of cigarette smoking during pregnancy were lower in mothers in consanguineous relationships.
Conclusion: Debate about consanguinity should balance the potential protective effect of consanguineous relationships with established genetic risk of congenital anomaly in children.
© The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.