Older Mexican-born Hispanics return to Mexico when ill

Mystery solved–at least in part. For almost two decades, demographers have puzzled over why U.S. Hispanics have lower mortality rates in adulthood than do non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics’ lower education and income levels should be linked to higher rates of illness and earlier death as they are for other racial and ethnic groups, but they aren’t.

From Population Reference Bureau :

Older Mexican-born Hispanics return to Mexico when ill, inflating US life expectancy rates

Mystery solved–at least in part. For almost two decades, demographers have puzzled over why U.S. Hispanics have lower mortality rates in adulthood than do non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics’ lower education and income levels should be linked to higher rates of illness and earlier death as they are for other racial and ethnic groups, but they aren’t.

Was there something wrong with data collection: Were Hispanics overstating their ages or was their ethnic background misidentified on U.S. death certificates? Were Hispanics who migrated in better physical and psychological health than those they left behind and the U.S. population as a whole? Was it the impact of return migration: Did foreign-born Hispanics return to their birthplaces when they faced illness or unemployment in the United States? Or was it something about the cohesiveness of Hispanic communities that was conducive to good health?

In an analysis in the latest issue of the journal Demography, Alberto Palloni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Elizabeth Arias of the National Center for Health Statistics, systematically explore the various theories using a number of different sets of data. They find that return migration–particularly among Mexican-born Hispanics–yields the strongest evidence for this anomaly.

Their analysis revealed that longer life expectancies were limited to the foreign-born Hispanics and did not include Puerto Ricans and Cubans (whether they were born in the United States or abroad).

They found the difference in mortality was sizable–30 percent to 50 percent lower than that experienced by non-Hispanic whites. This difference translates into between five and eight years of additional life expectancy at age 45.

Unfortunately, none of their calculations resulted in a clear explanation for the higher life expectancies among foreign-born Hispanics who were other than Mexican-born (Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, etc.)

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Demography is the peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Association of America.


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