Language Proficiency and Health Status: Are Bilingual Immigrants Healthier?

Ariela Schachter, Stanford University
Bridget K. Gorman, Rice University

Bilingual immigrants appear to have a health advantage over their monolingual counterparts, and identifying the mechanisms responsible for this is of interest to scholars and policy makers in the United States. Utilizing the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS), we investigate the associations between English and native-language proficiency and usage and self-rated health for Asian and Latino U.S. immigrants from six subgroups (Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican). Using unique measures of language skill, we demonstrate that across groups, strong English and native-language proficiency are associated with better self-rated physical and mental health; and moreover, these effects are not mediated by socioeconomic status, acculturation, family and social support, stress and discrimination, or health behaviors. Finally, country of origin interacts with language such that some ethnic groups gain more health advantages from strong English or native-language skills compared to others, demonstrating complex associations among health, language, and nationality.

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Presented in Session 121: Emerging Puzzles in Self-Rated Health