Reflections on the consanguinity and birth outcome debate
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The high rate of consanguineous marriages has been implicated as an important factor in the high rates of perinatal mortality and congenital malformations among the UK Pakistani population. This paper critically considers the debate on consanguinity and birth outcome. A critical review of epidemiological literature is placed in the context of wider, but centrally important debates on social class and ethnic categorizations, notions of culture and literature on racism. The epidemiological literature is inconsistent in its findings, and is often based on data and arguments of dubious validity. Equally, notions of social class, ethnicity and culture used in such studies lack sophistication and require reconsideration. Health policy options based on promoting cultural change in marriage patterns, conveniently but unjustifiably, shift the blame of poor birth outcome onto the Pakistani community and are doomed to failure. The consanguinity hypothesis is over-simplistic to explain the higher rates of perinatal mortality and congenital malformations among the Pakistani population. Its popularity rests less on its scientific merit and more on its convenience in shifting the blame onto supposedly deviant cultures and marriage patterns and its fit with racist ideas of alienness and deviance.