Wealthy Black mothers and infants fare worse than the poorest white mothers and infants, research finds.

When Serena Williams, the tennis star, first recounted how she struggled to get medical attention after developing complications following childbirth, her experience seemed to some like an aberration. How was it possible that health care providers initially ignored one of the world’s top celebrities when she told them something was wrong?

A working paper from Stanford University’s Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater finds that Williams’ harrowing encounter with the US health care system reflects a stark reality for many Black women, whether they are rich or poor: Black mothers and their newborns of all income levels do significantly worse, health-wise, than their white counterparts.

According to Rossin-Slater, an associate professor of health policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the findings point to deep-seated racial biases in US health care and other aspects of our society.

“We hear stories like Serena Williams’ and tend to think of them as exceptional, but our data suggest that’s not true,” Rossin-Slater says. “In a society that still suffers from structural racism, our research indicates that policies only addressing economic drivers of disparities are likely not enough to close racial health gaps.”

That Black mothers and their newborns at all income levels are worse off than whites is one of several remarkable insights from the study about inequality in infant and maternal health.

The study, released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, also compares the patterns in California to those found in Sweden, a country known for its universal health care system and high performance on international health rankings. The researchers find that even the richest mothers and newborns in California fare worse along multiple measures of health than the poorest mothers and newborns in Sweden.

Overall, the study sheds new light on why the United States, despite being known for top-tier health care innovation, including within neonatal and pediatric care, consistently ranks low on infant and maternal health measures compared to other developed countries. American mothers, for instance, die from childbirth-related causes at more than twice the rate of mothers in Canada, France, and Sweden.

Read the full article about racial disparities in maternal and infant health at Futurity.