Remapping racial and ethnic inequities in severe maternal morbidity: The legacy of redlining in California

Xing Gao, Jonathan M. Snowden, Curisa M. Tucker, Amani Allen, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Barbara Abrams, Suzan L. Carmichael, Mahasin S. Mujahid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Historical mortgage redlining, a racially discriminatory policy designed to uphold structural racism, may have played a role in producing the persistently elevated rate of severe maternal morbidity (SMM) among racialised birthing people. Objective: This study examined associations between Home-Owner Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining grades and SMM in a racially and ethnically diverse birth cohort in California. Methods: We leveraged a population-based cohort of all live hospital births at ≥20 weeks of gestation between 1997 and 2017 in California. SMM was defined as having one of 21 procedures and diagnoses, per an index developed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We characterised census tract-level redlining using HOLC's security maps for eight California cities. We assessed bivariate associations between HOLC grades and participant characteristics. Race and ethnicity-stratified mixed effects logistic regression models assessed the risk of SMM associated with HOLC grades within non-Hispanic Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Hispanic groups, adjusting for sociodemographic information, pregnancy-related factors, co-morbidities and neighbourhood deprivation index. Results: The study sample included 2,020,194 births, with 24,579 cases of SMM (1.2%). Living in a census tract that was graded as “Hazardous,” compared to census tracts graded “Best” and “Still Desirable,” was associated with 1.15 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.03, 1.29) and 1.17 (95% CI 1.09, 1.25) times the risk of SMM among Black and Hispanic birthing people, respectively, independent of sociodemographic factors. These associations persisted after adjusting for pregnancy-related factors and neighbourhood deprivation index. Conclusions: Historical redlining, a tool of structural racism that influenced the trajectory of neighbourhood social and material conditions, is associated with increased risk of experiencing SMM among Black and Hispanic birthing people in California. These findings demonstrate that addressing the enduring impact of macro-level and systemic mechanisms that uphold structural racism is a vital step in achieving racial and ethnic equity in birthing people's health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-389
Number of pages11
JournalPaediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • ethnic and racial minorities
  • maternal health
  • maternal morbidity
  • systemic racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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