“I’m Sure It’s Fine”: Why Highly Educated Women Report Higher Rates of Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy

Elaine M. Hernandez , Indiana University
Jessica Calarco, Indiana University

The expectation to avoid health risks is particularly acute for pregnant women, who are responsible for themselves and developing fetuses. With some potential risks, however, patients may encounter inconsistent information about the likelihood of harm. Thus, we ask: how does ambiguity around potential health risks influence patients’ decisions? Focusing on prenatal alcohol consumption, and combining nationally representative survey data with in-depth interviews, we find that both pregnant women and their healthcare providers distinguish accepted risks (binge drinking) from contested risks (light-to-moderate drinking). Pregnant women almost universally avoid accepted risks. With contested risks, decisions vary by educational attainment. Less-educated women avoid light-to-moderate drinking, as they worry about potential harm to their baby and potential judgment from friends, family, and providers. Highly-educated women trust themselves to drink “safely” and receive support for light-to-moderate drinking from friends, family, and providers. We discuss implications for medical risk, health decision-making, patient-provider interactions, and health-related inequalities.

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 Presented in Session 70. Parenting