There are well-documented and as yet unexplained disparities in birth outcomes by race in the United States, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. This paper examines the sources of disparities in low birth weight between blacks and whites in the U.S., by focusing on differences in disparities between two very distinct geographic areas, the Deep South and the rest of the country. Two findings from prior research drive the analyses: First, health overall is worse in the Deep South states; Second, race disparities are smaller in the Deep South than in the rest of the nation. A number of potential explanations for these findings are examined. Results suggest that, first, almost all of the increased burden of low birth weight in the Deep South states may be explained by differences in race composition and socioeconomic status between the Deep South and rest of the nation. Second, the lower race disparities found between the two regions are being driven by much worse outcomes for white mothers in the Deep South (vs. the rest of the country), particularly for poor whites, as opposed to better outcomes for black mothers. Potential paths for future research are recommended.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2009-05