Immigration and health among non-Hispanic whites: The impact of arrival cohort and region of birth.

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Immigration is central to our understanding of U.S. racial and ethnic health disparities, yet relatively little is known about the health of white immigrants - a group whose ethnic origins have become increasingly diverse. To the extent that whites are included in social stratification research, they are typically used as the reference category for gauging health inequities, with little attention to diversity among them. This study addresses this question using nationally representative data from the American Community Survey (2008-2017). We disaggregate non-Hispanic whites by nativity, region of birth, and period of arrival in the U.S. and examine differences in physical disability among adults aged 40 and older (n = 12, 075, 638). The analysis finds that foreign-born whites have a slightly lower prevalence of disability than U.S.-born whites, and this varies by arrival cohort. Immigrants who arrived in the 1981-1990 and 1991-2000 cohorts have a smaller advantage over U.S.-born whites than immigrants in the earlier and later cohorts. Compositional changes in the region of birth of white immigrants, especially the influx of eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners during the 1980s and 1990s, explained this variation. These findings challenge the oft-assumed notion that whites are a monolithic group and highlight growing intra-ethnic heterogeneity that is obscured by the aggregate category. Our findings also suggest that the standard practice of using whites as the reference for benchmarking health inequities may mask health inequities not only among them, but also between whites and other racial and ethnic populations.





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Read, Jen'nan Ghazal, Jessica S West and Christina Kamis (2020). Immigration and health among non-Hispanic whites: The impact of arrival cohort and region of birth. Social science & medicine (1982), 246. p. 112754. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112754 Retrieved from

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Jen'nan Read

Sally Dalton Robinson Professor

Jessica Sayles West

Medical Instructor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences

Jessica is a medical sociologist who specializes in research on hearing loss, aging, and health disparities over the life course. Jessica’s work has described the “spillover” effects of hearing loss on health outcomes for both individuals and those close to them, as well as sociodemographic disparities in the onset of and life expectancy with hearing loss. Her research, which leverages both population-level data and electronic health record data, has appeared in the Journals of Gerontology, Social Science & Medicine, Ear and Hearing, and other leading journals in medical sociology, hearing, and aging research.

Jessica received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in Social Anthropology (dual Sociology/Anthropology concentration) followed by an M.P.H. in Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in Public Health Research Methods from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She subsequently received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology with a focus in Medical Sociology and Demography at Duke University. She then completed an NIA T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Duke University Aging Center under the mentorship of Matthew E. Dupre, Ph.D. (Population Health Sciences) and Sherri L. Smith, Au.D., Ph.D. (Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences).

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