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Black Babies are Still Dying more often than White Babies

Update Date: Dec 20, 2013 01:40 PM EST
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In a new research study, a group of economists and one epidemiologist attempted to identify the reasons behind the difference in mortality rates between white and African American babies. According to statistics, black babies tend to have a higher infant mortality rate than white babies. Several studies in the past have found that environmental factors, such as lower income, might affect the level of medical care that the newborns receive. This new study, however, reported that the discrepancies could not be explained by observable factors.

Even though the mortality rates for both races have declined, the rate is still generally higher for black babies. The researchers found that from 1984 to 2004, the mortality rate for black babies under one-year-old fell from 18.6 to 12.2 per 100,000 live births. During this same time period, the mortality rate for white babies fell from nine to 5.9 per 100,000 live births.

In order to understand why black infants died at double the rate as white infants, the researchers analyzed the most common factors, such as education, access to prenatal care, paternal role, and local healthcare options and wealth. They were able to rule out many of these factors as contributors.

"When we take out the factors we can observe-including mother's age, education level, marital status and state of residence-the difference in the rate in which black and white infants die remained absolutely stable for two decades," said Steven Haider, professor of economics at Michigan State University and one of the authors of the study. "We've made no progress in shrinking that part of the gap."

The researchers reasoned that wealth and income might be playing a small factor in access to healthcare, but the evidence is weak. Furthermore, the researchers stated that the mother's level of education does not seem to be a huge factor in infant mortality rate. As education levels increased over the years, the researchers found that the difference between the mortality rates has remained the same. The researchers reported that 74 percent of the gap between the two races' infant mortality rates could not be explained via observable factors.

"It's not that now black mothers have the same level of education as the white mothers," explained one of the co-authors of the study, John Goddeeris according to TIME. Goddeeris is an economics professor at MSU. "It's that education doesn't seem to count as much. But being black still matters. And why exactly that is, we don't know."

The researchers believe that finding an understanding as to why the discrepancy occurs is vital. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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