National Institute on Aging

Study Finds Higher Levels of Black Maternal Mortality Due to Effects of Racism ad Sexism

A new study led by Evelyn J. Patterson, an associate professor of sociology and law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, finds that the effects of racism and sexism lead to higher maternal mortality rates among Black women in the U.S. than previously realized.

Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, Dr. Patterson and her colleagues examined the maternal mortality rates in the U.S. from 2015 to 2019. They measured the rates two ways — using maternal causes as an underlying cause of death and also as one of multiple causes of death. The data revealed a much greater disparity between women of color and White women than had been determined in other studies. The authors found that maternal mortality rates for Black women in their early 20s are consistent with those of White women in their mid-30s or older. “Thee disparities by race are large and speak to the structural racism and sexism systems in U.S. society,” Patterson said.

“Black feminists have done a great deal of work to bring visibility to women of color and the exacerbated burden they carry,” Dr. Patterson added. “This study illustrates the ways that some measures of health mask this burden, or rather death penalty, by demonstrating how racism and sexism work together to weaken the likelihood of motherhood not only via infant mortality, but also maternal mortality.”

Dr. Patterson is a graduate of Rice University in Houston, where she majored in statistics. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in demography and criminology from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Patterson joined the faculty at Vanderbilt in 2010.

The full study, “Gendered Racism on the Body: An Intersectional Approach to Maternal Mortality in the United States,” was published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review. It may be accessed here.


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