Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Social adversity, low birth weight, and preterm delivery.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 295 doi: (Published 01 August 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295:291
  1. A Stein,
  2. E A Campbell,
  3. A Day,
  4. K McPherson,
  5. P J Cooper
  1. Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.


    A prospective study of 483 pregnant women was undertaken to examine possible associations of social and psychiatric factors with both low birth weight (less than 2500 g) and preterm delivery (less than 37 weeks' gestation). As few babies were born before term (n = 14) or with a low birth weight (n = 14) further analyses were conducted to investigate predictors of absolute birth weight and gestational age. Low income was found to be an independent predictor of birth weight when birth weight was treated both as a dichotomous and as a continuous variable. Unemployment was found to be associated with absolute birth weight. Although this effect was statistically accounted for by low income, a low income was frequently caused by unemployment. Smoking independently predicted absolute birth weight and tended to be associated with preterm delivery. None of the factors investigated was associated with gestational age. In contrast with previous findings, factors such as social class, adverse life events, and psychiatric state were not associated with birth outcome. The mechanism underlying the association between low income and low birth weight requires further investigation.