Objectives: This study examined the socioeconomic precursors of disparities in maternal health by measuring the associations of nine neighborhood-level indicators of social phenomena with low infant birthweight.
Methods: Vital records and census data for the Chicago metropolitan area in 1990 were merged (n = 112,327); a logistic regression model predicting low birthweight was estimated by backward elimination.
Results: With individual-level variables held constant, six neighborhood-level indicators predicted low birthweight, together contributing to a variation in rate of 5.5%. Community economic hardship and housing costs were positively associated with low birthweight, while community socioeconomic status, crowded housing, and high percentages of young and African-American residents were negatively associated with low birthweight.
Conclusions: Maternal health inequalities should be explored in the context of historical segregation, social stratification, the dynamics of social support, and resource sharing among communities. Several community characteristics associated with poverty are negatively associated with low birthweight. The traditional focus on individual risk factors for low birthweight limits our understanding.