Do post-migration perceptions of social mobility matter for Latino immigrant health?

Alcantara, Carmela; Chen, Chih-Nan; Alegría, Margarita

Latino immigrants exhibit health declines with increasing duration in the United States, which some attribute to a loss in social status after migration or downward social mobility. Yet, research into the distribution of perceived social mobility and patterned associations to Latino health is sparse, despite extensive research to show that economic and social advancement is a key driver of voluntary migration. We investigated Latino immigrant sub-ethnic group variation in the distribution of perceived social mobility, defined as the difference between respondents' perceived social status of origin had they remained in their country of origin and their current social status in the U.S. We also examined the association between perceived social mobility and past-year major depressive episode (MDE) and self-rated fair/poor physical health, and whether Latino sub-ethnicity moderated these associations. We computed weighted logistic regression analyses using the Latino immigrant subsample (N = 1561) of the National Latino and Asian American Study. Puerto Rican migrants were more likely to perceive downward social mobility relative to Mexican and Cuban immigrants who were more likely to perceive upward social mobility. Perceived downward social mobility was associated with increased odds of fair/poor physical health and MDE. Latino sub-ethnicity was a statistically significant moderator, such that perceived downward social mobility was associated with higher odds of MDE only among Puerto Rican and Other Latino immigrants. In contrast, perceived upward social mobility was not associated with self-rated fair/poor physical health. Our findings suggest that perceived downward social mobility might be an independent correlate of health among Latino immigrants, and might help explain Latino sub-ethnic group differences in mental health status. Future studies on Latino immigrant health should use prospective designs to examine the physiological and psychological costs associated with perceived changes in social status with integration into the U.S. mainland.


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June 9, 2016