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Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2002 May;86(3):F142-6.

Socioeconomic status and preterm birth: New Zealand trends, 1980 to 1999.

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Department of Paediatrics, University of Auckland, New Zealand.



While a number of countries have reported rising preterm birth rates over the past two decades, none has examined the effects of socioeconomic status on preterm birth at a national level.


To document the changing incidence of preterm birth in New Zealand over the past 20 years and to determine whether particular socioeconomic or ethnic subsections of the population have contributed disproportionately to the changes seen.


Birth registration data routinely available from the New Zealand Health Information Service were analysed for the period 1980-99. Information for a total of 1 079 478 singleton live births was linked by Domicile Code to the New Zealand Deprivation Index, a small area index of deprivation.


Singleton preterm birth rates rose by 37.2% during the 20 year period, from 4.3% in 1980 to 5.9% in 1999. Rates increased by 71.9% among those living in the most affluent areas, but by only 3.5% among those living in the most deprived areas, resulting in the disappearance of a socioeconomic gradient in preterm birth that had existed during the early 1980s.


This study challenges traditional thinking on the associations between socioeconomic status and preterm birth. Further research is necessary if the changes that have occurred in New Zealand over the past 20 years are to be fully understood.

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