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Nativity Differences in Mothers' Health Behaviors: A Cross-National and Longitudinal Lens

Author(s): Jackson, Margot; McLanahan, Sara; Kiernan, Kathleen

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Abstract: There are striking advantages in birth outcomes and infant health among the children of foreign-born mothers (Hummer et al. 1999; Landale, Oropesa and Gorman 1999). Similarly, the occurrence of infant mortality and low birth weight is significantly lower among foreign-born, Hispanic mothers than would be expected on the basis of their socioeconomic resources (Hummer et al. 1999). This evidence has led to hypotheses about an “immigrant paradox,” complementing evidence of a “Latino mortality paradox” among adults, whereby Latino adults experience lower rates of many diseases than non-Latino whites, as well as higher life expectancy (Abraido-Lanza et al. 1999). Most research on the health behavior of immigrant mothers comes from work in the United States, particularly among Latin-American populations. The benefits of existing research notwithstanding, an examination of one ethnic group or country of origin cannot highlight ethnic stratification in the degree of immigrant families’ advantage. In addition, much existing work uses cross-sectional data and focuses on the period around birth, prohibiting an adequate test of the theory of unhealthy acculturation. In this article we extend existing research by asking 1) whether the advantage in immigrant mothers’ health behavior extends to immigrant mothers in several ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, and 2) whether the advantage persists beyond infancy. Focusing on mothers’ health behaviors, we compare immigrant mothers to their native-born ethnic counterparts as well as to native-born whites, using data from two large, longitudinal birth cohort surveys—the U.S. Fragile Families Study and the U.K. Millennium Cohort Study. These data are particularly well suited for studying immigrant mothers over time because of their diverse samples, high response rates and longitudinal designs. Revealing the early origins of inequality in the health environments of immigrant and native-born families is an important step toward identifying critical periods of investment, especially as children in immigrant families comprise an increasing proportion of all children and adolescents (Hernandez 2004).
Publication Date: 1-Sep-2012
Citation: Jackson, M., McLanahan, S., Kiernan, K. (2012). Nativity Differences in Mothers' Health Behaviors: A Cross-National and Longitudinal Lens. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 643 (1), 192 - 218. doi:10.1177/0002716212445438
DOI: doi:10.1177/0002716212445438
ISSN: 0002-7162
EISSN: 1552-3349
Pages: 192 - 218
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Version: Author's manuscript

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