Inequalities in Breastfeeding in the United States Across the Twentieth Century

Vida Maralani , Cornell University
Isadora Milanez, Yale University

Using data from nationally representative surveys fielded between 1965 and 2011, we assemble cohort data for mothers born from 1910 to 1990 and their breastfeeding practices. We use these data to investigate how and when breastfeeding became a practice differentiated by socioeconomic status. We answer the following research questions: (1) When did socioeconomic inequalities in breastfeeding emerge, and how do these differ by social category (education, race, marital status) across the century? (2) What role do the dramatic changes in family formation that emerged in the 1970s, including non-marital childbearing and the massive divergence of fertility timing by race and education play in explaining persistent SES differences in breastfeeding practices? (3) Are the observed patterns consistent with cultural explanations that argue that breastfeeding is a predominantly class-based practice that is closely related to a commitment to intensive parenting and the accompanying resources to realize this commitment child investment?

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 Presented in Session 9. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions; Gender, Race, & Ethnicity