Socially Assigned Race and the Health of Racialized Women and Their Infants

Nadia N. Abuelezam, Adolfo Cuevas, Sandro Galea, Summer Sherburne Hawkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: While historically most public health research has relied upon self-identified race as a proxy for experiencing racism, a growing literature recognizes that socially assigned race may more closely align with racialized lived experiences that influence health outcomes. We aim to understand how women's health behaviors, health outcomes, and infant health outcomes differ for women socially assigned as nonwhite when compared with women socially assigned as white in Massachusetts. Methods: Using data from the Massachusetts Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) Reactions to Race module, we documented the associations between socially assigned race (white vs. nonwhite) and women's health behaviors (e.g., initiation of prenatal care, breastfeeding), women's health outcomes (e.g., gestational diabetes, depression before pregnancy), and infant health outcomes (e.g., preterm birth, low birth weight [LBW]). Multivariable models adjusted for age, marital status, education level, nativity, receipt of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assistance during pregnancy, infant sex, plurality, and gestational age. Additional models adjusted for treatment by race, how often one thinks about race, and nativity. Results: Women socially assigned as nonwhite had higher odds of breastfeeding (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]: 1.86, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.54 to 2.25), lower odds of consuming alcohol (AOR: 0.27, 95% CI: 0.24 to 0.31), and lower odds of smoking (AOR: 0.30, 95% CI: 0.24 to 0.38) compared with those socially assigned as white. However, women socially assigned as nonwhite had higher odds of reporting gestational diabetes (AOR: 1.97, 95% CI: 1.49 to 2.61). Mothers socially assigned as nonwhite also had higher odds of giving birth to an LBW (AOR: 1.66, 95% CI: 1.29 to 2.14) and small-for-gestational age (AOR: 1.46, 95% CI: 1.19 to 1.80) infant compared with women socially assigned as white. Discussion: In comparison with women socially assigned as white, we observed poorer health outcomes for women who were socially assigned nonwhite despite engaging in more beneficial pregnancy-related health behaviors. Socially assigned race can provide an important context for women's experiences that can influence their health and the health of their infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-851
Number of pages7
JournalHealth Equity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • infant health
  • maternal health
  • racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Information Management


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