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Neighborhood and Father’s Ethnicity Can Influence Birth Outcomes

By LIDA TUNESI

While we know the U.S. has stark racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes, the authors of a new study say we need to zoom out a little to see the whole picture.

For one thing, the authors found that whereas most research focuses on the race and ethnicity of the mother, the father’s race and ethnicity plays a role, too. The study found that the racial and ethnic makeup of the parents’ neighborhood is associated with birth outcomes, too, and generally not in a good way.

Having a clear picture of these factors highlights the role of race and ethnicity in Americans’ health. This will only become more important as diversity increases and interracial and interethnic partnerships become more common.

Professor Luisa Borrell (Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Ph.D. student Hanish Kodali authored the new article, published in Social Science and Medicine.

The study, which looked at mother-and-father pairs in New York City, found that the likelihood of specific outcomes changes depending on the race and ethnicity of both parents. For instance, Black women had higher chances of having an infant with a low birthweight when their partner was Hispanic or Asian, and Asian women had greater odds of a preterm birth and infant mortality with a Black or white father.

Interracial and interethnic couples still experience stigma and discrimination in the U.S. These experiences can lead to chronic stress which could be contributing to these outcomes, the authors write.

Underscoring the importance of race and ethnicity in the U.S. even more, the authors also found that living in a diverse neighborhood was associated with worse birth outcomes for everyone, regardless of their skin color or heritage. These odds “may be explained by the lack of investment in health and social services, high crime, poverty and unemployment as well as poor housing quality” in these neighborhoods, Borrell and Kodali write. Factors that aren’t directly linked to health can still contribute to unhealthy stress.

There were two small exceptions to this, however. In more diverse neighborhoods, the gap in outcomes between Black and white women was smaller, and Hispanic women had better birthweight results than white women. Though these effects aren’t overwhelming, they might suggest that those women experience less discrimination or more of a feeling of belonging in those neighborhoods, supporting their overall health.