Abstract: Trends and Mental Health Correlates of Discrimination Among Latin American and Asian Immigrants in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Trends and Mental Health Correlates of Discrimination Among Latin American and Asian Immigrants in the United States

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Christopher Salas-Wright, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Michael Vaughn, PhD, Professor, Saint Louis University
Trenette Goings, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Sehun Oh, PhD, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Jorge Delva, PhD, Dean, Boston University
Mariana Cohen, MSW Student, Boston University
Seth Schwartz, PhD, Professor, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Background and Purpose: Prior research indicates that many immigrants from Latin America and Asia often experience discrimination in the United States (US). And yet, a number of important gaps in our understanding remain. For one, we do not know the extent to which the prevalence of perceived discrimination changes (or does not change) over time. Additionally, it is likely that rates of discrimination among immigrants vary depending on their specific background and experiences in the US. In the present study, we address these gaps using data from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) collected between 2004 and 2013. Based on the intensification of the negative discourse toward immigrants from Latin America in recent years, we expect that rates of discrimination toward Latin American immigrants will have increased over the study period.

Methods: The present study draws from two nationally representative surveys, the NESARC Wave II (collected in 2004/2005, N = 34,653) and NESARC-III (collected in 2012-2013, N = 36,309) [29,30]. The NESARC Wave II and NESARC-III are independent samples, such that individuals interviewed as part of the earlier study were not eligible to participate in the latter. Recurrent discrimination was measured by respondent reports of adverse experiences such as receiving poor treatment in restaurants or being called a racist name. For example, participants were asked: “During the past 12 months, how often were you called a racist name because of your race or ethnicity?” Weighted cross tabulations were used to estimate the prevalence of recurrent discrimination. Consistent with prior research, we tested for differences in the prevalence of discrimination between NESARC waves using independent samples t-tests. We also examined the discrimination-mental health link using logistic regression.

Results: Rates of perceived discrimination increased by more than 80 percent among immigrants from Latin America (from 14% in 2004 to 25% in 2013), but remained unchanged among Asian immigrants (20-22%). Large percentage point (pp) increases were observed among Latin American immigrants with less than a high school education (pp increase = 13.5) and residing in households earning $20-35,000 annually (pp increase = 14.0) as well as among immigrants arriving as adolescents (pp increase = 13.8,) and originating from Mexico (pp increase = 14.2). Recurrent discrimination was significantly associated with the increased risk of experiencing mood or anxiety disorders among both Latin American and Asian immigrants.

Conclusions and Implications: Evidence from the present study, which draws from two nationally representative surveys, indicates that one in four (25%) Latin American immigrants and more than one in five (22%) Asian immigrants experienced recurrent episodes of discrimination in 2012/2013. Although these rates were unchanged from 2004/2005 among Asian immigrants (20%), the prevalence of recurrent discrimination among Latin American immigrants increased by more than 80% since the mid-2000’s (14%). Robust increases were observed among Latin American immigrants of low SES and those from Mexico. Overall, our study findings raise concern both because of the inherent iniquitousness of discrimination and because identity-based mistreatment and harassment are linked with psychological distress and mental health problems.