Race and Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

A new study tracks the effects of alcohol drinking during each trimester of pregnancy for 636 mother-child pairs.

Light to moderate drinking during the second trimester led to the most pronounced cognitive deficits at age 10. The catch is the effect was found only for the African-Americans in the study and not for the white children, suggesting that race differences may make alcohol drinking more harmful for the babies of African-American mothers:

No such association was found for Caucasian children in the study. “This racial difference could not be explained by the amount or pattern of drinking during pregnancy or socioeconomic factors,” [study chief Dr. Jennifer A.] Willford told Reuters Health. This suggests that genetics play a role in these racial differences, the investigators add.


“Our study also showed that prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with lower IQ for African-American but not Caucasian children, said Willford. “Importantly, we know that this racial difference was not due to differences in the amount or pattern of alcohol use during pregnancy or by differences in socioeconomic status. We cannot say why the racial difference exists, but laboratory animal and human studies show that it may be partly explained by genetic factors.”

Levitt and Fryer type sophism using motor development scales aside, cognitive differences between African American and white children show up very early, and persist in a number of transracial adoption studies (I’m collecting this research into an Ebook that I’ll release here on gnxp when it can be finished). So studies like this are at least getting warmer than “acting white” type mythologies.


  1. I have read that fetal alcohol syndrome is especially prevalent and severe among American Indians. Do you know if they were included in the survey?

  2. aren’t euros more EtOH tolerant than other groups? could be as simple as ADH activity differences

  3. Do you mean that Caucs have a better ability to metabolize alcohol, and thus there is likely less getting to the fetus? 
    I suspect that some segments in society will want to suppress these findings on the grounds that they can be used by racists to justify discriminatory treatment …

  4. The irrationalists would be much more put out if it turned out that not only is alcohol more harmful to African babies, but that Africans have a higher rate of alcohol abuse during pregnancy than other races. Or would it be more rational to think that the harm done by alcohol would have led to more prevalent abstinence during pregnancy among African mothers, at least after correcting for IQ?