May 5th, 2011
12:35 PM ET
A new study finds that foreign-born Hispanics living in the U.S. experience significantly less stress than American-born Hispanics.
The study, published last month in Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, concludes that in addition to education and income disparities, higher levels of chronic stress among Hispanics and African-Americans leads to worse health outcomes in those populations.
But foreign-born Hispanics showed lower levels of stress, similar to whites, while American-born Hispanics showed higher levels of stress, similar to African-Americans, the study showed.
Participants answered questions about job satisfaction, financial strain, discrimination, personal relationships, and violence, ranking their experiences on a scale.
Researchers also took a more objective inventory of significant life events causing stress, such as whether a child had died or if a home had been burglarized.
Stress had a similar effect on all racial ethnic groups – no racial group’s health was found to be more vulnerable to stress than any other group – but the actual amount of stress did vary significantly, with African-Americans experiencing the most stress on average.
Higher levels of chronic stress lead to worse health outcomes, the study finds.
Dr. David Williams, the senior author, says he expected foreign-born Hispanics to have lower levels of stress than American-born Hispanics because previous studies have shown that all immigrants – including Hispanics, Whites, Blacks, and Asians – have better health than their native-born counterparts.
What’s surprising about the findings, Williams says, is just how much more stress those born in the U.S. experience compared with their immigrant counterparts.
In seeking an explanation, the study cites the possibility of a stronger social support network among recent immigrants, and a positive outlook on their opportunities.
“In spite of the difficulties faced in the new society, they are nonetheless comparing their opportunities in the U.S. with the opportunities they had in the country where they came from,” says Williams, “and therefore they focus more on opportunities and see the glass as half full and not half empty.”
The study was conducted by Harvard School of Public Health researchers using data from 3,105 adults in the Chicago Community Adult Health Study.
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