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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology

Psychology Matters

Diversity Matters

phuBy Tiffany Phu
PhD Candidate, Child Clinical Psychology

 

 

 

 

The immigrant paradox, sometimes known as the "Hispanic Health Paradox", describes an epidemiological finding that immigrants demonstrate better health outcomes compared to U.S. born individuals or second- and third- generation immigrants. These effects appear to diminish with increased acculturation and length of time in the United States. Considering that newcomer individuals are usually viewed negatively, these findings highlight the strengths that many immigrants demonstrate despite often facing difficult circumstances (e.g., low socioeconomic status, discrimination, acculturative stress). Research into the mechanisms behind this initial protective effect and its subsequent attenuation can illustrate fruitful avenues to bolster the well-being of newcomer individuals and families.

There has recently been an increased focus on understanding immigrant-origin children and youth (IOC&Y) using a developmental, multilevel perspective (Suarez, Motti-Stefanidi, Marks, & Katsiaficas, 2018). This integrative risk and resilience model for understanding the adaptation of IOC&Y suggests that the criteria for positive adaptation for this population should consider the acquisition of normative developmental tasks in conjunction with acculturative tasks. For example, efforts to learn about socialization within IOC&Y must acknowledge that experiencing different contexts of socialization can result in conflicting developmental task standards; as such, considering the development of cultural competence (e.g., ability to code switch) would likely be important.

Infants of immigrants tend to demonstrate indicators of a healthy start to life, with low rates of infant mortality and low birth weight. One longitudinal study examining Latina mothers and infants documented this pattern of more optimal birth outcomes and better toddler cognitive development outcomes than Latina and non-Latina mothers born in the U.S. (Fuller et al., 2009). However, the findings in subsequent developmental periods tend to be more nuanced, with the appearance and strength of the immigrant paradox varying by the domain of interest, child's age, and ethnicity. Much work is needed in elucidating the conditions that allow for IOC&Y to demonstrate resilience and the mechanisms by which this occurs. Ongoing research efforts within the Child Health and Development Lab seek to contribute to this literature and focuses on the Latino community, which currently makes up the largest segment of the U.S. immigrant population.

References

Fuller, B., Bridges, M., Bein, E., Jang, H., Jung, S., Rabe-Hesketh, S., Halfon, N., & Kuo, A. (2009). The health and cognitive growth of Latino toddlers: at risk or immigrant paradox?. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 13(6), 755.

Suárez-Orozco, C., Motti-Stefanidi, F., Marks, A., & Katsiaficas, D. (2018). An integrative risk and resilience model for understanding the adaptation of immigrant-origin children and youth. American Psychologist, 73(6), 781.