August 30, 2021 | Press Release

Health Status of Immigrant Teenagers Differs in Each Generation

To complete the study, the researchers focused on adolescents in Finland. © iStockphoto.com/FatCamera

Adolescents with one immigrant and one native parent face a higher level of health care needs, compared to adolescents with either both immigrant or native parents. This holds especially true for mental health problems. This is what a recent study by MPIDR Researcher Silvia Loi and colleagues found by analyzing Finnish register data.

In the literature it is known that immigrants tend to have better health than their native counterparts. This health advantage deteriorates over successive generations. This phenomenon is known as ‘negative health assimilation’, and up until now, it has been poorly understood where on this health assimilation spectrum adolescents with one immigrant and one native parent lie.

“Our research is the first to provide evidence on the role of mixed families in shaping the health gaps between different generations of immigrants,” says Silvia Loi, Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany. To fill this knowledge gap, the researchers focused on adolescents in Finland.

Higher risk of needing care only partly explained by family background

The team of researchers used register-based longitudinal data on children residing in Finland and born between 1986 and 2000. They then estimated the risk of receiving inpatient and outpatient care for somatic conditions, psychopathological disorders, and injuries by immigrant generation status.

They found that first-generation adolescents (who were born abroad and immigrated to Finland) have a lower risk of receiving specialized care for all three analyzed health problems compared to native adolescents (born in Finland to Finnish-born parents).

Second-generation adolescents (born in Finland to immigrant parents) have only a lower risk of receiving care for psychopathological disorders compared to native adolescents, but a similar risk of receiving care for somatic conditions and injuries.

Adolescents living with one immigrant and one Finnish-born parent have a higher risk of receiving specialized care for all three health problems, compared to natives, and they are at especially high risk of developing psychopathological disorders. The higher risk is only partially explained by family resources, such as educational level of the mother, and family income, or stressors like family instability, and mental health of the mother. The health differences among different generations of immigrants, still remain mostly unexplained.

The results also highlight some differences in the health conditions of the adolescents, depending on the three analyzed health problems. For example, for somatic conditions and injuries, the differences observed among migrant adolescents of different generations and natives are less striking compared to psychopathological disorders, of which immigrant adolescents are particularly suffering.

These findings were recently published in the high-impact journal Demography.

“Our findings suggest that these adolescents, who have one immigrant and one native parent, constitute a specific health risk group,” says Silvia. Given that the family's socioeconomic position and the stressors were found to explain only small parts of the observed disadvantage, it appears that the broader social context in the receiving country, or familial characteristics that the authors were unable to control for, may be more important than these factors. “Adolescents with a native-born and an immigrant parent may face integration obstacles that lead them to develop psychopathological conditions,” adds Silvia.

“Improving the health outcomes of migrant adolescents is an important policy goal. This holds particularly true, as the health of these adolescents is likely to influence related outcomes later in life, such as their success in school and their participation in the labor market and social life”, says Silvia.   

Original Publication

Loi, S., Pitkänen, J., Moustgaard, H., Myrskylä, M., Martikainen, P.: Health of immigrant children: The role of immigrant generation, exogamous family setting, and family material and social resources. Demography (2021). DOI: 10.1215/00703370-9411326

Authors and Affiliations

Silvia Loi, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock

Joonas Pitkänen, Population Research Unit, University of Helsinki

Heta Moustgaard, Population Research Unit, University of Helsinki

Mikko Myrskylä, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany; Center for Social Data Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Pekka Martikainen, Population Research Unit, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany

MPIDR-Authors of the Paper

Research Scientist

Silvia Loi

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+49 381 2081-162

Research Scientist

Pekka Martikainen

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The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.