Maternal mortality in the United States is rising, especially among women aged 25 to 34. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, even more women may die due to pregnancy complications in the coming years.
Women today are more likely to die during their late 20s and early 30s than at any other point in the previous three generations, according to the index of women’s well-being from the Population Reference Bureau.
The maternal mortality rate — the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births due to complications arising during pregnancy, childbirth, and the six weeks after childbirth — has risen significantly between 2017 and 2023.
The increase is especially notable among millennial women born between 1981 and 1999, as the rate increased from 19.2 to 30.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. It is much higher than the average of 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in high-income countries, data from the World Health Organization shows.
In comparison, the maternal mortality rate among Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) is 9.2 and 7.5, respectively.
Although the maternal mortality rates began rising before COVID-19, the pandemic contributed to the increase. COVID-19 was a factor in one out of every four maternal deaths during the first two years of the pandemic.
High and rising maternal mortality rates can be explained by limited access to prenatal and postnatal medical care and chronic conditions that contribute to maternal deaths.
Another factor is structural racism in the health care system. In 2020, Black women had a maternal mortality rate more than twice the national average.
They are more likely than white women to die from postpartum cardiomyopathy and preeclampsia/eclampsia. These disparities stem from socioeconomic factors such as education level and income.
The report authors predict that overturning Roe v. Wade will lead to further increases in maternal mortality in millennial and Generation Z women (born 2000 and later).
Most (64%) obstetricians-gynecologists believe that the decision has already worsened pregnancy-related mortality, according to a 2023 survey.
Black women are the most vulnerable
The report reveals an increasing suicide rate, with seven deaths by suicide per 100,000, compared to 4.4 among Gen X. Researchers say this could be partly explained by the opioid epidemic.
Millennial women are also more likely to be victims of homicide than their Gen X peers, with 4.5 and three deaths by homicide per 100,000, respectively. Black millennial women are especially vulnerable, as they are about five times more likely to die by homicide than their white peers.
Women in the U.S. no longer live better than the generation before them, with Black millennials seeing their health and safety deteriorating the most.
- Population Reference Bureau. LOSING MORE GROUND. REVISITING YOUNG WOMEN’S WELL-BEING ACROSS GENERATIONS.
- WHO. Maternal Mortality.