Even Controlling for Education Levels, Black Infant Mortality Exceeds Whites’

By Ellen Flax — June 17, 1992 2 min read

Race plays an important role in the nation’s infant-mortality rate, even among college-educated mothers, the results of a new study suggest.

The study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, found that babies born to college-educated black women are more than twice as likely as those born to highly educated white women to die before their first birthday.

The new finding is consistent with national data covering the general population. For 1989, the latest year for which complete federal data are available, 8.2 white infants per 1,000 born that year died young, compared with 17.7 black babies.

“The persistence of the difference between blacks and whites in overall infant mortality and rates of low birth weight in this well-educated population is disturbing,” the authors write in the June 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Much of the difference between black and white infant-mortality rates, the authors write, can be attributed to the higher percentage of I black babies who are born weighing less than 5.5 pounds. Low-birthweight babies and premature babies are far more likely to die by age 1 than are regular-weight and fullterm babies.

In comparing the death rates of 865,128 white and 42,230 black babies born to college-educated parents born between 1983 and 1985, the researchers found that black mothers were more than twice as likely as white mothers to give birth to a low-birthweight baby.

Although black low-birthweight babies had a lower mortality rate than comparable white infants, the fact that there were proportionately more black low-birthweight babies skewed the overall infant-mortality rate for blacks, the authors write.

“The persistently increased risk of low birthweight and very low birth weight among black infants in this selected population suggests a basic lack of understanding of the determinants of premature birth and an inability to prevent premature delivery, even in an educated population,” they conclude.

Black Families Poorer

Although both the black and white parents had similar education backgrounds, the families were dissimilar in ways that could account for some of the difference in the infant- mortality rate, the researchers said. Black families were less likely than white families to report incomes above $35,000, and fewer black mothers reported being in very good or excellent health compared with white mothers.

The higher death rate for black babies could also be caused by certain health problems that span several generations, the authors write.

The researchers found that normal- weight babies born to educated black women were just as likely to reach their first birthday as were white normal-weight babies. In the general population, black normal birthweight babies have almost twice the mortality rate of their white couterparts.

Also unlike the general population, the study said, both black and white babies of well -educated mothers have similar rates of sudden-infant-death syndrome, and the rate of preventable deaths is equivalent.

The researchers write that this finding “suggests that similar home environments and health care may allow black and white infants with normal birthweights an equal chance of survival.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1992 edition of Education Week as Even Controlling for Education Levels, Black Infant Mortality Exceeds Whites’