Population Health

At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Health and Migration

Kieron Barclay, Silvia Loi, Mikko Myrskylä, Jo Mhairi Hale (MPIDR / University of St Andrews, United Kingdom), Pekka Martikainen (MPIDR / University of Helsinki, Finland), Erin Hamilton (University of California, Davis, USA)

Detailed Description

How does the health of migrants differ from that of natives? And how does this change over time? These are core question in demography, with the “healthy migrant effect” being a widely observed empirical regularity. To analyze health differences between migrants and natives, and between different types of migrant groups, is as important as ever in a world where migrant flows are at all-time highs. The literature on migrant health shows that patterns vary across countries and by ethnic groupings. Although the data analyzed suggest that migrants are positively selected in terms of health, exposures to undocumented status, poverty, social exclusion, and assimilation to negative health behaviors in the host countries are likely to lead to deterioration in health over time.

This project investigates the relationship between health and migration. We focus on how the legal status of migrants impacts their health and well-being; how the dynamics of the migrant-native health gap changes over time and across generations; how assimilation, socioeconomic conditions, and social exclusion influence these dynamics; and how exogenous shocks that result in forced migration impact long-term health outcomes. We look at Italy, the United States, and Finland, exploiting data sources such as the US National Agricultural Workers Survey, the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, and Finnish population register data.

These are our key results: For Italy, we have found evidence that migrants have better health than natives do, but that this advantage disappears over time. This is particularly evident for migrants from low-income countries and for those who experience social exclusion and have occupations of lower socioeconomic status. In Finland, second-generation children have worse health than native-born and first-generation children, suggesting that the second generation may need particular attention. Our research on the impact of forced migration on health suggests that forced migration negatively impacts health, with forced migrants experiencing a higher hazard of all-cause mortality as well as ischaemic heart disease. These findings are based on Finnish population register data, and we exploited the exogenous shock stemming from forced migration during WWII. But given that forced migration is often triggered by violent conflict, these findings are likely to generalize to contemporary settings as well. As for the United States, we examined how health varies by legal status for Mexican immigrants and uncovered an epidemiological paradox: Migrants without legal status have better health, and this may well be explained by selection processes.

Research Keywords:

Ageing, Mortality and Longevity, Health Care, Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology, Life Course, Migration

Region keywords:

Finland, Italy, USA


Eibich, P.; Liu, C.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2020-012. (2020)    
Hamilton, E. R.; Patler, C. C.; Hale, J. M.:
Sociology Compass 13:6, e12695–e12695. (2019)    
Loi, S.; Hale, J. M.:
Demographic Research 40:32, 933–962. (2019)    
Loi, S.; Pitkänen, J.; Moustgaard, H.; Myrskylä, M.; Martikainen, P.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-009. (2019)    
Haukka, J.; Suvisaari, J.; Sarvimäki, M.; Martikainen, P.:
Epidemiology 28:4, 587–593. (2017)
Nguyen, E. T.; Hale, J. M.:
International Migration 55:5, 44–61. (2017)    
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.