Black/white disparities in infant mortality rates in the U.S.: A quality of care perspective

Enishia Jackson, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black infants in the U.S. is 13.63 deaths per 1,000 live births while the IMR for non-Hispanic White persons in the U.S. is 5.76 deaths per 1,000 live births. Black women are 2 times as likely as White women to deliver preterm infants and Black women are 2 times as likely as White women to deliver low birth weight infants (weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth). Differential underlying risk factors among mothers of different racial/ethnic groups for delivering pre-term and low birth weight infants have been historically accepted as the cause of racial disparities in IMRs. However, differential underlying risk status may not be the only major causative factor. Differential or unequal access to and provision of care is widely speculated to be a leading contributing factor to the wide racial disparity in infant mortality.2 This paper conducts a systematic review of existing literature investigating racial disparities in obstetrical care provided by healthcare practitioners to evaluate whether inequities in healthcare services provided to pregnant mothers and their neonates exist. The search terms "racial disparities obstetrical care," "racial differences quality of prenatal care," and "infant mortality racial disparities" were entered into the EBSCO Medline, Ovid Medline, PubMed, and Academic Search Complete databases, and articles between years 1990–2011 were selected for abstract review. The only articles included were those that used statistical methods to assess whether racial inequalities were present in the obstetrical services provided to pregnant women. My literature search returned 5 articles. Four of the five studies yielded significant racial differences in obstetrical care. However, the one study that used a large, nationally representative valid sample did not represent significant differences. Thus, this review provides initial evidence for racial disparities in obstetrical care, but concludes that more studies are needed in this area. Not all of the studies reviewed were consistent in the use and measurement of services, and not all studies were significant. The policy and public health implications of possible racial disparities in obstetrical care include the need to develop standard of care protocols for ALL obstetrical patients across the United States to minimize and/or eliminate the inequities and differences in obstetrical services provided.

Subject Area

Medicine|Public health

Recommended Citation

Jackson, Enishia, "Black/white disparities in infant mortality rates in the U.S.: A quality of care perspective" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1516457.