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Is being American unhealthy for Mexicans?

RICE / DUKE (US) — Mexican-Americans who have assimilated into the U.S. culture are less healthy than those who have recently migrated from Mexico, a new study suggests.

In particular, the research reveals that this pattern of declining health among immigrants who are in the U.S. the longest holds more strongly for men than women. Conversely, among new arrivals, women report poorer health than men.

Reported in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the study examines gender differences in Mexican immigrant health using data from the 1998-2007 National Health Interview Survey.

“Men who have recently migrated from Mexico tend to report better health than women,” says Bridget Gorman, associate professor of sociology at Rice University and lead author of the study. “This could be in part because men are more likely than women to migrate to the U.S. in search of employment—often in physically demanding jobs—and at younger ages.”

“The implications of our findings run counter to the popular belief that recent immigrant arrivals are taxing the U.S. health care system,” says study coauthor Jen’nan Read, associate professor of sociology and global health at Duke University.

While men tend to start out healthier than women, their health declines at a faster pace as they adapt to the U.S. culture.

“In particular, the risk of diabetes increases at a strong rate for Mexican-American men, even after we account for a variety of factors that might explain this relationship, such as smoking or income,” Gorman says. “Yet, among women, diabetes status appears mostly unrelated to their acculturation level.”

The researchers found that the major mechanism driving these patterns is access to and utilization of health care. Women are more likely to use the health care system because of their roles as family caretakers; they are more likely to be in contact with doctors and, therefore, more aware of their ailments, according to the authors.

In contrast, men, especially those who immigrated more recently, are much less likely to use the health care system and therefore may not know they are sick. Over time, male immigrants become increasingly likely to use the health care system, and thus the gap between men and women begins to close.

“From a policy perspective, this highlights the necessity of improving access to and utilization of medical-care services among men,” Gorman says. “Not only would this help address an important unmet health need for many men, it would also permit health researchers to more accurately assess and forecast medical-care need and use among residents.”

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chat13 Comments


  1. Dr. O'

    There are a few things this study does not appear to have evaluated. First, new immigrants tend to be given the most demanding physical jobs, especially parts of the job that are not really well defined in job descriptions. Secondly, new immigrants, legal or otherwise, are aware that reporting injuries is a quick route to unemployment. Third is the “macho” aspect of culture that is hard to remove. This aspect applies to men but not women. And of course, there is the problems with communication. Interestingly, it is easier for women to get certain jobs if they speak Spanish (for example, cleaning hotel and motel roooms) because nearly everybody is from Mexico or other Spanish speaking countries. Most of these jobs involve no contact with the public at large and are not labor intensive.

  2. TX Horn

    Housecleaning, cleaning hotel and motel rooms, and waiting tables are incredibly labor intensive. This is covered extensively by Barbara Ehrenreich in her non-fiction novel Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Getting back to the study, a factor to consider among newly arrived immigrant men is their coping mechanism for the stresses of their new lives and jobs. Often, these men become addicted to short-term, performance-enhancing drugs (i.e. cocaine) which degrade their health over time.

  3. Richard

    Yes, it is unhealthy for them, so they should stay in Mexico.

  4. AC

    TX wrote “Often, these men become addicted to short-term, performance-enhancing drugs (i.e. cocaine) which degrade their health over time.”

    Maybe methamphetamine is a more common drug among hard labor workers? I have long wondered who the heck is buying all this stuff, and been baffled by the huge quantities occasionally discovered by the police and border agents.

  5. Andrew Careaga

    The last time I checked the map, Mexico is part of America. This headline is inaccurate.

  6. Ex-expat

    An important factor also might be the fact Mexico has socialized medicine and almost everyone has access to medical care at no cost. Too bad the US isn’t a third world country yet.

  7. noodles66

    @ Ex-expat, Have you ever been in a rural Mexico hospital?
    @ Andrew, well duh, The point here would be North America, above the Rio Grande.
    @ TX, you are sorta right, but alcohol is the more commonly abused drug by most of the immigrants I’ve worked along side. Corona, its the breakfast of roofers, diggers, and many other blue collar jobs.

    …the point here is that they come and work, they come and wind up doing physical labor that puts them at risk every day. Did you know if you fall from eleven feet or higher your odds at dying are 50/50?
    It’s good to have these folks doing the jobs that people here don’t want to do….oh, hold on, some of us might do it…some of us need a job…

    so… yeah, being here may be unhealthy for them, but even more so for the people that are citizens. We will have to pay for their care as well as our own, even if we all don’t have jobs.

  8. par

    Hey guys,
    I say help the Mexican be here legally – they take the jobs American won’t do- because it’s too degrading to wash windows, clean yards, work at Luby’s I see alot of Africans, Asians, Puerto-Ricans & so on and so forth here so why bash the Mexicans – and I also think they stick to drinking beer and alcohol – so unless you walk in those shoes why even comment!!??!!

  9. jjb

    Thanx Richard for your insightful comment.

  10. Andrew Careaga

    @noodles – Mexico is part of North America. The Rio Grande is not the demarcation line between North and South America. Geography class, anyone?

  11. noodles

    Pardon me Andrew, I didn’t know we were splitting hairs here.
    Did you have any other intelligent remarks?

  12. KarenSC

    Ummm, did any one look at changes in diet? That’s why second generation Asian aren’t nearly as healthy as their folks. Assimilation to our crappy American diet causes health problems for lots of people who immigrate here.
    And Andrew – they’re talking about the US of America, not the American continent…wasn’t that obvious? And the Rio Grande separates the USA from Mexico. Please don’t tell me you think Mexico is part of the USA??!!??

  13. KinPolk

    Males are probably more likely to be eating fast food regularly, due to long working hours and fewer cooking skills.

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