Racial Disparities in Prematurity Persist among Women of High Socioeconomic Status

Am J Obstet Gynecol MFM. 2020 Aug;2(3):100104. doi: 10.1016/j.ajogmf.2020.100104. Epub 2020 Mar 23.


Objectives: Despite persistent racial disparities in preterm birth (PTB) in the US among non-Hispanic (NH) black women compared to NH white women, it remains controversial whether sociodemographic factors can explain these differences. We sought to evaluate whether disparities in PTB persist among NH black women with high socioeconomic status (SES).

Study design: We conducted a population-based cohort study of all live births in the US from 2015-2017 using birth certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System. We included singleton, non-anomalous live births among women who were of high SES (defined as having ≥ 16 years of education, private insurance, and not receiving Women, Infants and Children [WIC] benefits) and who identified as NH white, NH black, or 'mixed' NH black and white race. The primary outcome was PTB <37 weeks; secondary outcomes included PTB <34 and <28 weeks. In addition, analyses were repeated considering birthweight <2500g as a surrogate for preterm birth <37 weeks, birthweight <1500g as a surrogate for preterm birth <34 weeks, and birthweight <750g as a surrogate for preterm birth <28 weeks' gestation. Data were analyzed with chi-square, t-test, and logistic regression.

Results: 2,170,686 live births met inclusion criteria, with 92.9% NH white, 6.7% NH black, and 0.4% both NH white and black race. Overall, 5.9% delivered <37, 1.3% <34, and 0.3 % <28 weeks. In unadjusted analyses of women with high SES, the PTB rate at each gestational age cutoff was higher for women of 'mixed' NH white and black race, and highest for women who were NH black only compared to women who were NH white only. In regression models we further adjusted for women with insurance and prenatal care their entire pregnancy, maternal race was associated with higher odds of PTB at each GA cutoff, with the highest odds observed at <28 weeks. Finally, in further adjustement analysis including only the 1,934,912 women who received prenatal care in the first trimester, findings were similar. Rates of preterm birth at each gestational age cutoff remained highest for women who identified as non-Hispanic black, intermediate for women identifying as both non-Hispanic black and white race, and lowest for non-Hispanic white women at <37 weeks (9.9% vs. 6.1% vs. 5.5%, respectively; p<0.001), <34 weeks (3.5% vs. 1.5% vs. 1.1%, respectively; p<0.001), and <28 weeks' gestation (1.2% vs. 0.4% vs. 0.2%, respectively, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Even among college-educated women with private insurance who are not receiving WIC, racial disparities in prematurity persist. These national findings are consistent with prior studies that suggest factors other than socio-demographics are important in the underlying pathogenesis of PTB.

Keywords: health disparities; prematurity; preterm birth; preterm delivery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth* / epidemiology
  • Social Class
  • White People