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Municipal social expenditures and maternal health disparities: a study of linked birth and hospitalisation records

Abstract

Background Local government expenditures provide services and benefits that can affect health but the extent to which they are associated with narrowing or widening of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in health is unknown. We examined race/ethnicity-stratified and education-stratified associations between municipal social expenditures—those on housing, transportation, education, and other society-wide needs—and serious life-threatening maternal health conditions in a large US state.

Methods In this cross-sectional study, we used individual birth records for 1 003 974 births in the state of New Jersey from 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2018 linked to individual maternal hospital discharge records and municipality-level characteristics for 564 municipalities. Severe maternal morbidity (SMM) was identified in the discharge records using a measure developed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Associations between municipal-level social expenditures per capita and SMM were estimated using multilevel logistic models.

Results Residing in a municipality with higher social expenditures was associated with lower odds of SMM across all racial/ethnic groups and education levels. Overall, 1% higher annual social expenditures per capita was associated with 0.21% (95% CI −0.29 to –0.13) lower odds of SMM. The associations were greater for individuals with less than a high school education than for those in the other educational groups in both relative (lnOR −0.53; 95% CI −0.74 to –0.31) and absolute (β −0.013; 95% CI −0.019 to –0.008) terms.

Conclusion Municipal-level spending on social services is associated with narrowing socioeconomic disparities in SMM. Narrowing racial/ethnic disparities in maternal health will likely require intervening beyond the provision of services to addressing historical and ongoing structural factors.

  • MATERNAL HEALTH
  • POLICY
  • SOCIAL CLASS
  • Health inequalities

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Researchers interested in using birth and hospital discharge records are required to apply to the NJ Department of Health, and, if approved, sign a data use agreement.

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