Ethnic Density and Maternal and Infant Health Inequalities: Bangladeshi Immigrant Women in New York City in the 1990s

Sara McLafferty, Michael Widener, Ranjana Chakrabarti, Sue Grady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do the social and material characteristics of residential contexts in the host country affect immigrant maternal and infant health? We examine this question through the lens of the ethnic density hypothesis, a hypothesis that posits beneficial effects on immigrant health of living in areas of high ethnic density; that is, among a socially and linguistically similar population. We analyze the association between infant low birth weight and ethnic density for Bangladeshi immigrant mothers in New York City during a period of rapid and sustained immigration (1990-2000). For Bangladeshi immigrant women, ethnic neighborhoods can provide an important source of social and material support during pregnancy. Geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis methods are used to create a fine-grained indicator of ethnic density. Results show that the relationship between ethnic density and infant low birth weight changed over time. The lack of association in the early years (1990 and 1993) might reflect the fact that the Bangladeshi population had not yet reached a sufficient size, or spatially clustered settlement pattern, to provide dense ethnic neighborhoods and concentrations of social and material resources. In 2000, we observe a U-shaped association between low birth weight and density: Women living in ethnically isolated settings and those living in high-density enclaves are more vulnerable to adverse infant health outcomes. The results suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of immigrant maternal and infant health and ethnic density that incorporates the dynamism of immigrant experiences and their associations with shifting spatially and socially defined residential environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)893-903
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Bangladeshi
  • New York City
  • ethnic density
  • immigrant
  • low birth weight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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