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Environmental hazards, social inequality, and fetal loss: Implications of live-birth bias for estimation of disparities in birth outcomes


Restricting to live births can induce bias in studies of pregnancy and developmental outcomes, but whether this live-birth bias results in underestimating disparities is unknown. Bias may arise from collider stratification due to an unmeasured common cause of fetal loss and the outcome of interest, or depletion of susceptibles, where exposure differentially causes fetal loss among those with underlying susceptibility.


We conducted a simulation study to examine the magnitude of live-birth bias in a population parameterized to resemble one year of conceptions in California (N = 625,000). We simulated exposure to a non-time-varying environmental hazard, risk of spontaneous abortion, and time to live birth using 1000 Monte Carlo simulations. Our outcome of interest was preterm birth. We included a social vulnerability factor to represent social disadvantage, and estimated overall risk differences for exposure and preterm birth using linear probability models and stratified by the social vulnerability factor. We calculated how often confidence intervals included the true point estimate (CI coverage probabilities) to illustrate whether effect estimates differed qualitatively from the truth.


Depletion of susceptibles resulted in a larger magnitude of bias compared with collider stratification, with larger bias among the socially vulnerable group. Coverage probabilities were not adversely affected by bias due to collider stratification. Depletion of susceptibles reduced coverage, especially among the socially vulnerable (coverage among socially vulnerable = 46%, coverage among nonsocially vulnerable = 91% in the most extreme scenario).


In simulations, hazardous environmental exposures induced live-birth bias and the bias was larger for socially vulnerable women.

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