Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Elizabeth Holzer, Jeremy Pais, Marysol Asencio

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Campus Access


A growing body of scientific-medical research demonstrates a number of health benefits of breastfeeding. There is however, a persistent disparity in breastfeeding rates between Black and White women. This study asks: What are the underlying social mechanisms that drive historical trends in racial disparities in breastfeeding in the United States? I conducted a logistic regression of breastfeeding rates from 1973-2015 using the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and a historical meta-policy analysis of federal and international policies, campaigns, and reports, from 1973-2015, with particular attention to impacts of policies by race. I identify three distinct trends that point not to a single explanation for persistent racial disparities in breastfeeding but to three different mechanisms, producing three distinct types of changing racial disparities: (1) increases in racial disparities that derive from improvements for Whites not captured by Blacks (1973-1982), attributable to the limited perspective and exclusionary nature of the early social movement surrounding breastfeeding; (2) decreases in racial disparities that stem from improvements for Whites captured even more strongly by Blacks (1995-2006), tied to the broad implementation of specific interventions that outweighed individual characteristics; and, (3) leveling off of disparities between Whites and Blacks (2006-2015), stemming from the move past low-hanging fruit and the decentralization of the social movement. By examining historical trends in breastfeeding disparities in greater depth, I am able to situate health disparities within the broader history of race and racism in the United States, to more effectively theorize about mechanisms of disparities, and to inform potential interventions.

Major Advisor

Elizabeth Holzer