Born in the USA: Exceptionalism in Maternity Care Organisation Among High-Income Countries

E. van Teijlingen, S. Wrede, C. Benoit, J. Sandall, R. DeVries

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    In lay terms, childbirth is regarded as a purely biological event: what is more natural than birth and death? On the other hand, social scientists have long understood that 'natural' events are socially structured. In the case of birth, sociologists have examined the social and cultural shaping of its timing, outcome, and the organization of care throughout the perinatal period. Continuing in this tradition, we examine the peculiar social design of birth in the United States of America, contrasting this design with the ways birth is organised in Europe. We begin by showing how several key characteristics of the US health care system – including its inherent social inequality, its high level of medicalisation, and the substantial influence of private medical practice and insurance companies – influence the organization of maternity care there. We then explore how cultural characteristics of American society – its emphasis on individuality, the influence of moral conservatism in US politics, and the ease with which ordinary people take court action (the so-called 'litigation culture') – shape the delivery of care at birth. We conclude with a consideration of the implications of US maternity care exceptionalism for comparative sociological analysis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5
    Number of pages11
    JournalSociological Research Online
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2009


    • pregnancy
    • comparative studies
    • exceptionalism
    • United States
    • midwifery
    • maternity care
    • birth


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