Rethinking the effect of duration on immigrant health : evidence from the National Health Interview Survey (2006-2008) and the New Immigrant Survey (2003)

Li, Jing, 1977-
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Past studies often find that, upon arrival U.S. immigrants generally have favorable health profiles than native-born persons, but their health deteriorates with prolonged stay. The classical explanations of this phenomenon are healthy immigrant selection and negative acculturation. With the number of foreign-born people living in the United States reaching an all-time high, the health and financial costs of this “negative acculturation” is substantial. Meanwhile, the negative duration effect on health is contradictory to expectations from classic assimilation theory and what has been observed by labor economists. This study aims to empirically study the effect of duration on immigrant health, with particular attention given to how socioeconomic status differentiates the duration-health relationship. Results based on two national datasets confirmed that immigrants, especially recent arrivals, have a considerably lower risk of worse health relative to native-born adults. I also found that socioeconomic status plays an essential role in the varying level of initial health selectivity among immigrants. The analysis of the interaction effect between duration and SES reveals that duration effects on health vary significantly by socioeconomic status. High SES immigrants tend to experience a non-negative duration effect regardless of their length of U.S. residence, while immigrants with lower socioeconomic standing are more likely to experience a negative duration effect on health with longer duration. Moreover, this study also shows that the initial foreign-born advantages in health are typically larger for persons with low SES than for persons with high SES. However, little evidence suggests there is a health convergence between long-term immigrants and their native-born counterparts with similar socioeconomic status. Potential explanations and implications of these findings are also discussed.