Immigration & mortalityAnti-immigrant prejudice linked to mortality risk

Published 13 April 2018

One of the defining elements of the 2016 election cycle was its focus on immigration. One aspect of immigration did not figure in the discussion: When it comes to mortality, U.S.-born individuals of immigrant descent fare much worse than their foreign-born counterparts — but why?

One of the defining elements of the 2016 election cycle was its focus on immigration. On both sides of the partisan divide, immigration figured heavily into candidates’ talking points and served as a key determinant of voting behavior.

But while pundits and the public weighed the social and economic effects of immigration, researcher Brittany Morey instead homed in on another aspect of the immigrant experience.

“I started wondering how anti-immigrant rhetoric connects to health in the United States — or is there a connection to be made at all?” said Morey, a UC Chancellor’s postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.

UCR says that for years, Morey has studied how the experience of being an immigrant in the United States — a reality often marked by stigma, social isolation, and discrimination — affects health. Working closely with co-researchers Gilbert Gee of UCLA and Peter Muennig and Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University, she set out in search of a concrete way to tie social attitudes toward immigration to an unambiguous health outcome: mortality.

Bridging the gap between the two, she explained, would allow her to determine whether being a target of anti-immigrant prejudice has any bearing on long-term health.

Morey and her fellow researchers presented their findings in an article published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. They discovered that living in a community that demonstrates significant anti-immigrant prejudice doesn’t seem to affect the mortality rates of immigrants as a whole.

However, when compared with their foreign-born counterparts, nonwhite and nonblack ethnic minorities who had been born in the U.S.“seemed to experience increased mortality risk in communities with high anti-immigrant prejudice,” the researchers wrote.

To reach these conclusions, they merged two existing sets of data to create an entirely new set. The first existing set made use of the General Social Survey, or GSS, an assessment conducted every two years to gauge American public opinion toward a range of social issues, including immigration.