WASHINGTON, D.C.— New research on neighborhood racial segregation and sentiments toward people of color is highlighting how racism-related stress may be contributing to inequities in premature birth. Although previous research has shown that Black women in the United States are more than 50% more likely to deliver a premature baby than white women, the new data capture some of the dynamics earlier studies could not unravel.

The studies, which were analyzed by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), are part of a deeper exploration of factors underlying premature births supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

“Socioeconomic factors like the mother’s health, education and income have been shown to account for only a portion of the Black-white gap in premature births. Innovative approaches that examine the potential role of racism-related stress can help advance our understanding of this important public health issue,” said Linda Jacobsen, PRB’s vice president for U.S. Programs.

In one study, conducted by Steve Hicks School of Social Work professors Catherine Cubbin and Shetal Vohra-Gupta among others, found that the racial composition of a mother’s neighborhood could shape her risk of premature birth. Researchers cross-referenced Texas birth certificate data with data on neighborhood racial and ethnic composition over a 20-year period. Although Black women had higher odds of having a premature birth than white women, the differences were widest among Black and white women living in neighborhoods with persistently high concentrations of white residents.

Researchers noted that Black women may be exposed to stressful race-related experiences in predominantly white neighborhoods, experience social isolation and must overcome racial barriers to access community resources, including adequate health care. Efforts to promote a more accepting and inclusive social environment and introduce racially inclusive policies and services that support Black women could help reduce premature and low-weight birth rates.

Media contact: Liselle Yorke, lyorke@prb.org, 202-939-5463