The Unique Impact of Abolition of Jim Crow Laws on Reducing Inequities in Infant Death Rates and Implications for Choice of Comparison Groups in Analyzing Societal Determinants of Health

The Issue:

There is little research exploring the health impact of the abolition of Jim Crow laws, but existing literature shows that political incorporation of minority groups can reduce health inequities. The authors explored associations between the overturning of Jim Crow laws, and birth cohort trends in infant death rates.

Key Findings

  • From 1960 to 1964, the Black infant death rate was 1.19 times higher in the Jim Crow than in the non-Jim Crow polity.

  • There was a convergence of Black infant death rates in Jim Crow and non-Jim Crow polities in the mid-1960s.

  • In 1970 to 1974, the rate ratio shrank to and stayed around 1, rising to 1.10 in 2000.

  • These changes did not occur for White infants, or for Black-White infant death rate differences.


The mid-1960s convergence of Jim Crow and non-Jim Crow Black infant death rates shows that abolition of Jim Crow laws affected Black infant death rates. The authors suggest further methodological work on appropriate comparison groups in health inequities research.

About the Study:

Analyzed Black and White infant death rates within and among polities with and without Jim Crow laws, from 1959 to 2006, defining the Jim Crow polity as the District of Columbia and any 21 states whose laws legalized racial discrimination before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.