Do Mexican Immigrants "Import" Social Gradients in Health to the U.S.?

Alison M. Buttenheim, Princeton University
Noreen Goldman, Princeton University
Anne Pebley, University of California, Los Angeles
Chang Y. Chung, Princeton University

Greater educational attainment is consistently associated with lower mortality rates and better health behaviors in the U.S.: the well-known social gradient in health. However, recent research suggests that Mexican adults in the U.S. have weak or nonexistent gradients, in contrast to steep gradients for non-Hispanic whites. Healthy migrant and acculturation hypotheses have not been persuasive in explaining this finding. We propose a third hypothesis: Could the relative weakness of social gradients in health observed among Mexican-origin adults in the U.S. be explained simply by weaker gradients in the sending population? We test this “imported gradients” hypothesis with data from two large nationally representative data sets: the U.S. National Health Interview Survey and the Mexican National Health Survey. We compare the gradients in smoking and obesity for recently-arrived Mexican immigrants in the U.S. to gradients in high-migration regions of Mexico. Results generally support the imported gradients hypothesis.

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Presented in Session 11: Health Disparities among Immigrants