Racial Residential Segregation and Low Birth Weight in Michigan's Metropolitan Areas

Even as total infant mortality has declined, racial disparities exist for low birthweight, the leading cause of death among Black infants. Studies have linked low birthweight to racial residential segregation and limited economic opportunities. These authors posit that racial segregation presents risks beyond that.

These researchers examined births to mothers living in Michigan metropolitan areas to ascertain whether racial segregation was associated with low birthweight independent of economic factors. They distinguished between low birthweight attributable to preterm delivery versus to intrauterine growth restriction, which typically stems from chronic deficiencies of oxygen and nutrient delivery to the fetus. They looked at four levels of racial segregation: (1) Black segregated; (2) Black nonsegregated; (3)White segregated; and (4) White nonsegregated, to determine whether or not the census tract was poor.

Racial and economic segregation operated independently. Mothers living in Black segregated and Black nonsegregated areas were more likely to have low-birthweight infants than mothers living in White nonsegregated tracks, even after controlling for measures of economic well-being. This suggests that the structural effects of racial segregation also affect Whites. The prevalence of low birthweight was driven by intrauterine growth restriction—probably due to chronic exposure to neighborhood-level stress factors and structural factors such as targeted tobacco advertising and lack of healthy food options.