Volume 41 - Article 25 | Pages 713–752  

Maternal educational attainment and infant mortality in the United States: Does the gradient vary by race/ethnicity and nativity?

By Tiffany Green, Tod Hamilton


Background: Maternal education-infant health gradients are flatter among foreign-born mothers than U.S.-born mothers; However, because common metrics of infant health are less predictive of infant mortality for some racial/ethnic and nativity groups, further study of maternal education-infant mortality gradients is necessary.

Objective: We investigate whether maternal education–infant mortality gradients vary by race/ethnicity and nativity among infants born to mothers in the United States.

Methods: We use data from the 1998‒2002 National Vital Statistics Birth Cohort Linked Birth/Infant Death Data published by the National Center for Health Statistics (N = 17,520,140) to estimate logistic regression models predicting infant, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality by race/ethnicity and nativity.

Results: The negative associations between maternal education and infant mortality are stronger for US-born mothers than foreign-born mothers. Among both groups, Non-Hispanic whites have the highest returns to education and Non-Hispanic blacks have the lowest returns. While foreign-born mothers are less likely to have an infant die than their native-born counterparts, this advantage is largest at the lowest levels of education and converges at the highest levels of education . For most racial/ethnic groups, the maternal education–infant mortality gradient is steeper during the postneonatal period than during the neonatal period.

Conclusions: The maternal education–infant mortality gradient varies substantially by the timing of infant death, race/ethnicity, and nativity.

Contribution: This study extends the literature on nativity disparities in infant health by documenting how the maternal education-infant mortality gradient varies by nativity within racial/ethnic groups. To our knowledge, this is the first study to produce these estimates.

Author's Affiliation

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