The “Immigrant Paradox”: Links Between Nativity and Wellbeing in the United States

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Balconies I, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Symposium Organizer:
Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University
According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly 40 million immigrants—an estimated 12% of the total population—currently reside in the United States.  Notably, an emerging body of evidence suggests that the presence of this sizable demographic may have important implications for the health and well-being of the nation. Indeed, research on the “immigrant paradox” indicates that, despite lower levels of socioeconomic status, foreign-born individuals living in the United States tend to live longer, healthier lives than their native-born counterparts. While this pattern has been consistently identified in terms of outcomes such as the prevalence of chronic disease and life expectancy, relatively little research has accrued with respect to behavioral health outcomes such as mental and substance use disorders, as well as behavioral outcomes such as violence and antisociality. As such, the goal of this symposium is to address this gap in the current knowledge base by presenting results from four studies that examine the links between immigration status and underresearched health and behavioral outcomes. 

      The first study examines the link between immigrant status and mental health outcomes among first and second-generation immigrants to the United States.  Findings suggest that first and second-generation immigrant status is an important protective factor for mental disorders, but that the mental health of immigrants increasingly resembles native-born Americans over time and across generations.

      The second study examines a similar question in exploring the multigenerational links between immigrant status and substance use disorders among immigrants.  Results point to very strong protective effects for first-generation immigrants and moderate protective effects for second-generation immigrants with respect to a wide array of substance use disorders.  Evidence also suggests that immigrants that arrive at later developmental stages face lower risk in terms of substance use disorders.

      The third study transitions from the links between immigrant status of particular disorders to the exploration of the prevalence of violent and antisocial behavior among immigrants.  In contrast with popular depictions of immigrants as criminogenic and dangerous, evidence clearly indicates that immigrants are significantly less antisocial than native-born Americans.  Notably, the protective effect of immigrant status is far-and-away strongest among first-generation immigrants, attenuates substantially among the second-generation, and essentially disappears by the third-generation. 

      The final study examines the relationship between immigrant status and the perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV).  In contrast with the first three studies, evidence suggests that immigrants are significantly more likely to perpetrate IPV; however, a closer examination of this link across major regions of the world reveals that these results are driven by immigrants from the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Immigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America reported a lower prevalence of IPV perpetration than native-born Americans. 

     The studies in this symposium present cutting-edge information that constitutes an important contribution to our understanding of the “immigrant paradox”.  An informed understanding of the relationship between immigrant status and behavioral health and behavioral outcomes is of vital importance to the efforts of social workers engaged with individuals and communities in the 21st century.

* noted as presenting author
Mental Disorders Among First and Second-Generation Immigrants to the United States: Extending the Immigrant Paradox
Njeri Kagotho, PhD, Adelphi University; Christopher P. Salas-Wright, PhD, University of Texas at Austin; Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University
Substance Use Disorders Among Immigrants in the United States: Multigenerational Evidence of an Immigrant Paradox
Christopher P. Salas-Wright, PhD, University of Texas at Austin; Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University; Trenette T. Clark, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; David Cordova, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Lauren Terzis, MSW, Saint Louis University
The Immigrant Paradox: Evidence on the Relationship Between Nativity and Antisocial Behavior Across Three Generations
Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University; Christopher P. Salas-Wright, PhD, University of Texas at Austin; Matt DeLisi, Iowa State University; Brandy R. Maynard, PhD, Saint Louis University
Is Intimate Partner Violence More Common Among Immigrants in the United States? Yes and No
Shannon Cooper-Sadlo, MSW, Saint Louis University; Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University; Christopher P. Salas-Wright, PhD, University of Texas at Austin; Brandy R. Maynard, PhD, Saint Louis University; Matthew J. Larson, PhD, Saint Louis University
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