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Open Access Publications from the University of California

High-Risk, Good Outcomes: The Health Paradox of Latina Mothers and Infants


The Mexican-origin population in California is one of the fastest growing groups in the state, due to high immigration and fertility rates. Despite the presence of a variety of risk factors associated with poor pregnancy outcomes in other populations, Mexican-origin women enjoy low rates of infant mortality and low birthweight. This striking epidemiological paradox in such a significant portion of the state’s population merits close examination.

This working paper brings together a number of studies that have sought to explain the phenomenon of positive birth outcomes in the at-risk Mexican-origin population. Past studies center around four hypotheses which suggest that 1) selective migration might favor more healthy mothers; 2) protective socio-cultural factors could outweigh many of the risk factors associated with adverse birth outcomes; 3) excessive fetal death within the population eliminate weaker fetuses before birth; and 4) infant death may go unreported.

An understanding of these issues will aid policy maker and health care providers in designing interventions and policies to protect the health of Latina mothers and children in California.

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