RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN BIRTH WEIGHT
LOW BIRTH WEIGHT can cause:
Physical Health Problems
increased infant mortality, respiratory distress, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung disorders,
and stunted growth.
Mental Health and Cognition Problems
developmental issues, hyperactivity disorders, and lower IQ.
lower school readiness, lower scores on academic achievement tests, lower likelihood of graduating from high
Low Socioeconomic Status
low educational attainment, and potentially lower earnings.
To investigate factors lowering birth weight, we explored over 2 million births given in the US in 2014 using a
dataset published by the National Center for Health
In our analysis we found staggering differences in newborn
weight, based on race.
Children of black mothers
are on average 242 grams lighter than
those of white mothers (3100 vs 3343
There are nearly twice as many underweight
children born to black mothers than to white mothers (12.52% vs
In this project we explore why such an enormous racial gap exists.
Based on existing research we identified the following set of variables potentially lowering
- mother’s race,
- teen pregnancy,
- marital status,
- access to prenatal care,
- plurality (singleton, twins, triplets, etc.),
- body mass index,
- number of cigarettes smoked prior to pregnancy,
- and newborn sex.
We used linear regression to estimate the impact of these variables of the weight of newborns.
Results confirmed the existence of racial gap in newborn
For example, even after accounting for the above variables (income, marital status, etc.) there still is a
219 gram difference between black and white infants .
From now on, we will use values obtained using the regression instead of means. While they are smaller,
they provide a more accurate description of the data.
Variables showed below influence birth weight.
There is a larger proportion of black mothers than
in each of the disadvantageous groups.
We explore them in detail later.
Single mothers have access to fewer resources and care during pregnancy.
Children of single mothers are 44 grams lighter than those of married mothers.
Data show that the proportion of single black mothers is over 2X higher than of single white mothers.
Less educated mothers often enjoy lower salaries.
Women without a college degree have children that are on average 19 grams lighter than mothers with one.
Once again, we observe black women being much more disadvantaged with 81% of
black mothers having no college degree vs. 57% of white mothers.
Being a teen mother also correlates with lower income.
Children born to teen mothers are 27 grams lighter than those born to women who are over 19 years old.
What we observe in the data is that 11% of black mothers are in their teens, while the same is true only for 6%
of white mothers.
Surprisingly, access to such support programs as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is
correlated with low birth weight.
WIC clearly doesn’t decrease birth weight but being
only available to low-income mothers, it is a good indicator of being poor.
Mothers participating in WIC have 8.731 lighter babies than those who don’t.
Sadly, WIC is much more prevalent among black mothers – 60% of black mothers
participate in WIC while only 36% of white mothers do.
Only low-income mothers are eligible for Medicaid.
Medicaid recipients have 45 grams lighter babies than others.
Utilization of this assistance program is over 2X higher among black mothers
(79% vs. 37%). Overall, our data suggest that
black mothers suffer from much lower income levels than their white counterparts.
Access to prenatal care is crucial to proper fetal development. It's also extremely costly.
Finally, no access to prenatal care is associated with babies being 10 grams lighter.
As before, we observe the grim pattern of more black women suffering from being overrepresented in this
category. The proportion of black mothers without access to prenatal
care is 3x higher than of white mothers.
To this day, the serious problem of low newborn weight continues to affect
disproportionally many black families.
As we demonstrated earlier,
the proportion of low income mothers is nearly 2X higher among blacks.
Mothers with low income are more likely to give birth to low weight children.
Later in life, those children suffer from poor health.
they are less likely to graduate from high school and achieve the same
levels of education as children born with normal weight.
Poor education and health problems can lead to less disposable income.
This closes the loop.
Please help us stop this vicious cycle of blameless, unwarranted, and unjustified suffering.
Consider donating to charities such as
Black Child Development
one of many others that help disadvantaged children.
Authors: Kini Luo and Maciej Kos
Thank you to Siqi Zhu for direction and mentorship.