The Health of U.S. Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union: A Puzzling Case

Neil Mehta, University of Pennsylvania

Since 1970, more than one million individuals from the former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrated to the United States. Using data from the U.S. Census, the National Health Interview Survey, and the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Study, we provide the first comprehensive study of the determinants of health in this immigrant group. We find that older FSU-born immigrants report considerably higher levels of disability and poorer overall self-rated health compared to older U.S.-born whites and most other major immigrant groups. Harmful behaviors (smoking, heavy alcohol use), obesity and diagnosed medical conditions do not explain the poorer health of this group relative to U.S.-born whites. Hence, the relatively poor reported levels of health among FSU-born immigrants remain unexplained. Additionally, older U.S. Russian-born immigrants are better off with respect to self-reported disability and health-related behaviors compared to the Russian population, although the immigrant group reports considerably poorer self-rated health compared to their sending population.

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Presented in Session 11: Health Disparities among Immigrants