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Does race matter? Children’s height in Brazil and South Africa

Abstract

I examine racial differences in child stunting in mid-1990s South Africa and Brazil, two multiracial societies with different histories of legal support for racial discrimination. Using data from nationally representative household samples linked to community-level measures, the analysis shows that racial inequality in the distribution of socioeconomic resources across households and communities explains much of the racial difference in stunting in both countries. Even after these factors are controlled, however, the results indicate that in South Africa, nonwhite children are still at greater risk of growth faltering than are white children. The nature of socioeconomic and racial differences in children’s growth is examined, and major determinants are discussed. These findings suggest that although state-sanctioned racism may help to explain the greater racial inequality in stunting in South Africa than in Brazil, the eradication of a disadvantage for nonwhites will depend on changes in the same fundamental socioeconomic inequalities that characterize both nations.

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This research was made possible by a Mellon Fellowship in Latin American Sociology. I am grateful to Donald Treiman, Narayan Sastry, Edward Telles, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable input on this article.

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Burgard, S. Does race matter? Children’s height in Brazil and South Africa. Demography 39, 763–790 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2002.0034

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Keywords

  • Household Wealth
  • White Child
  • Black Child
  • Racial Inequality
  • Proximate Determinant