Discriminatory mass de-housing and low-weight births: Scales of geography, time, and level

  • Wallace D
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Struening et al.1 demonstrated a widening disparity of low birthweight (LOB) rates among New York City health areas from 1980-1986, clearly a dynamic process. In contrast, the New York City Department of Health reported static citywide LOB rate in 1988-2008.2 Struening et al.1 is extended here at the health district level with mapping and regression analyses. Additionally, birthweight data are reported for babies born in 1998-2001 to a group of African-American and Dominican women in Upper Manhattan. The data reported in this paper indicate that both fetal programming of the mother herself (life course model) and stress during or shortly before pregnancy may play a role in LOB. Current stress may arise from past events. Intergenerational effects, thus, could arise from stresses on the grandmother and their residual impacts on the mother as well as new stresses on the mother as an adult. The average weight of babies born to the Upper Manhattan mothers who were born in 1970-1974 was 3,466 g, with 1.6% below 2,500 g; that of babies of mothers born in 1975-1979, 3,320 g, with 6% below 2,500 g. The latter group was born during the 1975-1979 housing destruction. Intergenerational impacts of that event may be reflected in this elevated rate of LOB. Health district maps of LOB incidence ranges show improvement from 1990-2000 and then deterioration in 2005 and 2008. Bivariate regressions of socioeconomic (SE) factors and LOB incidence showed many strong associations in 1990; but by 2000, the number and strength of these associations declined. In 1990, 2000, and 2008, black segregation was the SE factor most strongly associated with LOB. Black segregation and murder rate explained about 85% of the pattern of 1990 LOB. Regressing the 1970-1980 percent population change against the SE factors showed effects even in 2000. The 1990 murder rate and 1989 percentage of public assistance explained over half the 2008 LOB incidence pattern. The housing destruction of the 1970s continued to influence LOB incidence indirectly in 2008. The ability of community and individual to cope with current stressors may hinge on resilience status, which is shaped by past events and circumstances. The present interacts with the past in many ways. Serial displacement exemplifies this interaction of immense importance to public health.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Geography of low-weight births
  • Influences on low-weight birth patterns
  • Intergenerational effects
  • Serial displacement

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  • Deborah Wallace

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