Increasing Minimum Wage Could Reduce Racial Disparity in U.S. Infant Mortality

In the United States, infant mortality among non-Hispanic Blacks is twice the rate among non-Hispanic Whites. This disparity may be linked to income inequality. People living in poverty are less likely than their high-income counterparts to have access to adequate health resources and nutrition and are more likely to have infants with low birthweight. A recent NIMHD-supported study showed that states with higher minimum wages had lower infant mortality rates among non-Hispanic Blacks, suggesting that increasing the minimum wage could have a protective effect that helps reduce the disparity.

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The researchers used federally collected data on 3.87 million infants born in the United States in 2010. For each infant, the data included information on the mother’s race/ethnicity, age, place of residence, and other characteristics, which were analyzed with state-level minimum wages in 2010.

The average state-level minimum wage was $7.46, ranging from $6.15 to $8.55. Infants of non-Hispanic Black mothers living in states with a low minimum wage were significantly more likely to die during their first year of life than those born in states with a high minimum wage. For non-Hispanic White mothers, infant mortality rates appeared higher in states with a low minimum wage, but the difference was not significant.

This study supports the possibility that a higher minimum wage could improve infant mortality, particularly for the most affected U.S. racial/ethnic groups. Future studies could examine the impacts of other economic factors, such as individual or family income and state-level assistance programs, on infant mortality.

Rosenquist, N. A., Cook, D. M., Ehntholt, A., Omaye, A., Muennig, P., & Pabayo, R. (2020). Differential relationship between state-level minimum wage and infant mortality risk among U.S. infants born to white and black mothers. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 4(1), 14-19.

Page updated January 14, 2022