Racial Disparities Exist in Maternal Mortality Rates, Regardless of Socioeconomic Status
By Consumers for Quality Care, on March 10, 2023
A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, as reported by The New York Times, found that Black women in America, no matter their income or wealth, suffer higher rates of maternal mortality than their White counterparts.
Many studies over the years have uncovered racial disparities in maternal health. This study, however, is the first of its kind to take into account the socioeconomic status of the mothers being studied. Here, researchers found racial disparities in maternal health outcomes at every level of income and wealth. They found, for example, that even the highest-earning Black women had the same risk of maternal mortality as white women of the lowest incomes. They also found that babies born to the Black women with the highest incomes had higher mortality rates than babies born to the lowest-income white women.
These findings are astonishing because in the United States income and wealth tend to be positively correlated with health outcomes. The more money you earn, the more wealth you have, the more likely you are to have access to health care. The greater your access to quality care, the more likely you are to have better outcomes. What this study establishes is that this is only so true for women of color, and no professional achievement, no degree of financial security can fully insulate Black women and their families from the effects of racial inequality.
As Tiffany L. Green, an economist at University Wisconsin-Madison, said, “It’s not race, it’s racism.” She continued, “The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.”
Atheendar Venkataramani is an economist and medical doctor who teaches health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Although he was not involved with this particular study, he has spent most of his career researching racial disparities in health. He called the study “a landmark paper,” noting that it “makes really stark…how we are leaving one group of people way behind.”
CQC urges both state and federal lawmakers to take the action necessary to close racial disparities in maternal health outcomes and care.