Saturday, July 20News For London

Figures show a link between birth rates and ethnicity

In contrast with previous studies, the recent figures show that socio-economic factors are more relevant than biological ones

When a baby is born from Black or Asian parents they have lower birth weight and survival rates due to socio-economic factors.


Babies born from Pakistani and Black African parents had the highest infant mortality rates. Meanwhile, those from white mothers and fathers have the lowest in England and Wales, according to 2013 figures provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The white community (British and Irish) suffered only 2.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, the figure is quite different for other minorities. Pakistani babies had a mortality rate of 6.7, Black Caribbean of 6.6, and Black African of 6.3. These ethnic groups showed the most worrying probabilities of babies’ survival.

The figures displayed a scary face of how inequality works even in the early stages of life when your ethnicity is linked to the chances of surviving or having a healthy life. Public Health Journal published an article stating that low or high birth weight can be clarified by socioeconomic factors. This is a contradiction with previous studies that reported that only about 10 per cent of ethnic differences might be the cause for lower birth rate. “However, these assertions are not convincing: first ethnicity is a social, not a biological construct […] Therefore, the default position of a genetic explanation over that of environmental effects is not warranted.”

The risk of stillbirths or low birth weight increases for a mother that smokes or suffers from obesity. Nevertheless, data shows that white mothers tend to have more both of these risks. Meanwhile, mothers from Asian or black minorities do not. The information explains how stillbirths or low weight in the case of non-White groups are more related to socio-economic factors than to behavioural issues.

When a baby is delivered weighing less than 2,500 grams, doctors consider this a risk. As the Millenium Cohort Study explains “birthweight is an important marker of infant health and a large body of work suggests links between birth weight and the development of chronic disease”.

The trend of ethnicity disparities is also observable in the figures of infant mortality rate for low birth weight. White British parents lost 29 per 1,000 live births in events related to weightiness. But, again, babies of Black African parents showed the highest infant mortality rate related to how much the baby weighed when he or she was born: 54,1 deaths per 1,000 births. Also, 41.9 Pakistani babies died per 1,000 live births.

Delivering babies pre-term is also a risk that could lead to low birth weight and stillbirth. Black African and Bangladeshi babies tend to come before 40 weeks of pregnancy. According to data provided by the ONS describing the situation in 2014, 11.1 per cent of Black Caribbean mothers delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy, while 7.5 per cent of White British women had their babies that early.

All data suggest the strong connection between socio-economic position and the probabilities of having a healthy infant.

Some of the reasons behind these problems can be linked to household income. The ONS published a table showing that 679,106 babies were born in England and Wales in 2017. When they break this number using the National Statistics Socio-Economic classification (NS-SEC), parents classified as 1.1 (Large employers and higher managerial and administrative occupations) had 1,693 babies weighing less than 2,500 grams. However, households categorised as 2 (Lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations) had a much higher rate in low birth weight with 11,732 babies born under the limit of 2,500 grams.

In order to keep track of the situation among minorities, the government published relevant data about disparities related to ethnicities in a webpage entirely dedicated to this issue. After a quick glance, it is easy to see how disparities at birth, are actually inequalities in everyday life. For example, unemployment among Asian and black minorities is almost the double that of white English people, and Black Caribbean pupils are excluded from school three times as often as white British peers.