Maternal and Infant Health Inequality: New Evidence from Linked Administrative Data
We use linked administrative data that combines the universe of California birth records, hospitalizations, and death records with parental income from Internal Revenue Service tax records to provide novel evidence on economic inequality in infant and maternal health. We find that birth outcomes vary non-monotonically with parental income, and that children of parents in the top ventile of the income distribution have higher rates of low birth weight and preterm birth than those in the bottom ventile. However, unlike birth outcomes, infant mortality varies monotonically with income, and infants of parents in the top ventile of the income distribution—who have the worst birth outcomes—have a death rate that is half that of infants of parents in the bottom ventile. When studying maternal health, we find that although mothers in the top and bottom income ventiles have similar rates of severe maternal morbidity, the former group are three times less likely to die than the latter. At the same time, these disparities by parental income are small when compared to racial disparities, and we observe virtually no convergence in health outcomes across racial and ethnic groups as income rises. Indeed, infant and maternal health in Black families at the top of the income distribution is markedly worse than that of white families at the bottom of the income distribution. Lastly, we benchmark the health gradients in California to those in Sweden, finding that infant and maternal health is worse in California than in Sweden for most outcomes throughout the entire income distribution.