Search the Site

Are Bilingual Immigrants Healthier?

A new study by Ariela SchachterRachel Tolbert Kimbro, and Bridget K. Gorman found that strong English skills and native language skills are associated with better health for immigrants. Using language as an indicator of adaptiveness to a new country, the researchers set out to investigate the “healthy immigrant effect”:

The “healthy immigrant effect”—whereby immigrants initially appear healthier than the native-born, although with time in the U.S. their health status declines—continues to puzzle scholars. Acculturation, or the process by which immigrants adapt to a host country, is a primary explanation of this phenomenon.

Although they found that bilingualism is related to better self-reported health, they are still baffled as to why:

Our most striking finding is that none of the mechanisms which have been hypothesized to be responsible for the effects of language on health—acculturation, familial and social support, stress and discrimination, and health behaviors—had any significant mediating effects in our models … Clearly, our language measures are tapping into something important which we are not measuring in this study.