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Matern Child Health J. 2010 Jan;14(1):20-35. doi: 10.1007/s10995-008-0427-0. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

Poverty, near-poverty, and hardship around the time of pregnancy.

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  • 1Center on Social Disparities in Health, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.


To describe income levels and the prevalence of major hardships among women during or just before pregnancy. We separately analyzed 2002-2006 population-based postpartum survey data from California's Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (n = 18,332) and 19 states participating in CDC's Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (n = 143,452) to examine income and several hardships (divorce/separation, domestic violence, homelessness, financial difficulties, spouse/partner's or respondent's involuntary job loss or incarceration, and, in California only, food insecurity and no social support) during/just before pregnancy. In both samples, over 30% of women were poor (income </=100% of federal poverty level [FPL]) and 20% near-poor (101-200% FPL); and around 60% of low-income (poor or near-poor) women experienced at least one hardship. While hardship prevalence decreased significantly as income increased, many non-low-income women also experienced hardships; e.g., in California, 43% of all women and 13% with incomes >400% FPL experienced one or more hardships. These findings paint a disturbing picture of experiences around the time of pregnancy in the United States for many women giving birth and their children, particularly because 60% had previous births. The high prevalence of low income and of serious hardships during pregnancy is of concern, given previous research documenting the adverse health consequences of these experiences and recognition of pregnancy as a critical period for health throughout the life course. Low income and major hardships around the time of pregnancy should be addressed as mainstream U.S. maternal-infant health and social policy issues.

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