Bettye Jean Ford holds the tiny urn containing the ashes of her prematurely born first child Kally on June 21, 2019. Photo by Iris Schneider for CalMatters.

(CALMATTERS NETWORK) – We’ve known for many years now that Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers during childbirth. It’s one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But a recent study of 2 million California births shows that income levels don’t change that: The richest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts. 

That’s despite California having one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

The study from the National Bureau of Economic Research cross-referenced records from the California Department of Health with parental income data from the IRS. 

The authors say their study implies that policies seeking racial health equity won’t succeed if they only target economic markers. 

  • Maya Rossin-Slater, an economist and author of the study, told the New York Times: “It suggests that the well-documented Black-white gap in infant and maternal health that’s been discussed a lot in recent years is not just explained by differences in economic circumstances. It suggests it’s much more structural.”