Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Higher rent costs linked with increased risk of pregnancy complications: study

“Housing cost burden is disproportionately high among women of reproductive age who have low incomes or have low education.”
Pregnant person in hospital.

Story at a glance

  • The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate out of 10 other high-income countries.

  • However, new research suggests increasing affordable housing could reduce mothers’ risk of suffering life-threatening pregnancy complications.

  • Findings are based on more than 1 million birth records from women in New Jersey. 

New research suggests greater availability of affordable housing could be beneficial to expectant mothers’ health. 

Findings, published in JAMA Network Open, detail an association between higher municipal rental housing costs relative to income and an increased risk of labor and delivery complications among New Jersey women. 

These women were more likely to suffer hemorrhage, heart failure and other life-threatening pregnancy complications than those who lived in areas with higher availability of affordable housing. 

The discrepancy was even greater in women without a highschool education. For every 10,000 deliveries in New Jersey, 260 of these women suffered life-threatening maternal health complications, including heart failure, kidney failure, heart attacks and blood transfusions. 

However, for those with a college education, that total decreased to 160 out of every 10,000 deliveries. 

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Increasing the availability of publicly supported affordable housing could help mitigate these disparities, researchers explained, by reducing the link between high rental costs — relative to income — and poor maternal health outcomes. 

“There is an ongoing housing affordability crisis in the U.S. due to rising housing costs that are outpacing income growth,” said study author Felix Muchomba of the Rutgers School of Social Work in a release

“Housing cost burden is disproportionately high among women of reproductive age who have low incomes or have low education.” 

Lack of affordable housing can lead to crowding, homelessness and housing instability, which could limit access to reproductive health screenings and timely prenatal care, researchers wrote. In addition, the pressure to make timely payments can take a toll on psychological health while households burdened with high housing costs have less to spend on health care and nutrition.

An allotment of a $1000 subsidy for affordable housing to less-educated mothers with incomes lower than the poverty level in their area would lead to an 8 percent drop in the likelihood of experiencing life-threatening maternal outcomes, data showed. 

Researchers estimated such a boost in funding would reduce the gap of poor outcomes among mothers with college degrees and those with less than a high-school degree by 20 percent. 

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate compared with other high-income countries. This rate includes deaths during pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after delivery. For Black U.S. mothers, the rate of maternal mortality is more than two times greater than for white mothers. 

In addition, “New Jersey has the fourth highest maternal mortality rate and one of the highest severe maternal morbidity rates in the nation,” the authors added.

“For every maternal death, hundreds more experience severe maternal morbidity, where women experience life-threatening outcomes of labor and delivery,” Muchomba said.

These complications could negatively affect the long- and short-term health of mothers and adversely interfere their bonding with children, further affecting children’s development. 

More than 1 million birth records from 2008 to 2018 were included in the study and linked with hospital discharge records and municipal-level data on rental housing costs and public housing support programs.

“To more fully address the issue of housing cost burden and its consequences for health, it will be necessary to address societal factors that intersect with housing costs, such as redlining (ie, denying financial or other services to individuals wishing to live in a certain area based on their race or ethnicity) and other manifestations of structural racism,” researchers concluded.