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Mexican immigrant women's local and transnational social embeddedness: Implications for understanding the “Immigrant Health Paradox”

Edna A. Viruell-Fuentes, PhD, MPH, Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard University, 65 Langdon St. #9, Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-547-0363, eviruell@hsph.harvard.edu

For almost two decades, U.S. public health researchers have been baffled by findings that suggest that Mexican immigrants experience better physical and mental health outcomes—despite their lower socioeconomic status—than their U.S.-born counterparts. One set of explanations proposes that Mexican culture endows immigrants with access to strong social networks of support that buffer the detrimental effects of stressors on health. The assumption within these explanations is that as immigrants acculturate, their networks deteriorate. This paper examines this assumption through the analysis of 40 in-depth interviews with first- and second-generation Mexican immigrant women, and it also draws implications for understanding immigrant health outcomes. In particular, this study compares the social embeddedness of Mexican immigrant women across generations. Interview data reveals that both first- and second-generation Mexican immigrant women rely on primary networks of support that are small, kin-based, closely-knit, and highly reciprocal. However, their social embeddedness differ in other dimensions, such that, relative to the second generation, first-generation women report limited access to secondary sources of support; substantial immigration-related demands that burden social networks; and increased transnational responsibilities. Contrary to expectations, these findings suggest that the differences in embeddedness may actually favor the health of the second generation over the first. The findings point to the need to examine contextual factors within the socio-cultural explanations for the “Paradox.”

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this presentation, the participant (learner) in this session will be able to

Keywords: Latinas, Immigrants

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No

Health and Access to Care Disparities of Adult and Child Immigrants

The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA