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The Translation of Social into Reproductive Inequality: A Population-based Test of the Weathering Hypothesis

Publication Abstract

Geronimus, Arline T. "The Translation of Social into Reproductive Inequality: A Population-based Test of the Weathering Hypothesis." PSC Research Report No. 95-323. January 1995.

This study explores whether early health deterioration ("weathering") among young adult African American women contributes to observed increases with maternal age in the black-white disparity in birth outcome. Theoretically, "weathering" is constructed as being a physical consequence of social inequality. Thus, another hypothesized aspect explored here is whether variation exists among African Americans in their maternal age trajectories of poor birth outcome with respect to social class. Black or white singleton first births to Michigan reisdents ages 15 to 34 in 1989 (N=54,888 births) are analyzed, using data drawn from linked birth and infant death certificates augmented with census-based economic information. We find that among blacks, but not whites, advancing maternal age above 15 years is associated with increased odds of low birthweight. Among blacks in low-income areas, the odds of low birthweight increase three-fold, and of very low birthweight four-fold, between maternal ages 15 and 34. The findings suggest that African American women, on average, and those residing in low-income areas, in particular, experience worsening health profiles between their teens and young adulthood, contributing to their increasing risk of low birthweight or very low birthweight with advancing maternal age and to the black-white gap in this risk. The findings support the importance of comprehensive prevention strategies to improve the health of socioeconomically disadvantaged African American women prior to pregnancy and the reduction of social inequalities that affect health.

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