February 23, 2019
happy latino family

Long Live Hispanics

by Berkeley Wellness  

Hispanic Americans live about 2 years longer, on average, than non-Hispanic whites and more than 6 years longer than non-Hispanic black Americans. They have lower rates of many chronic diseases (diabetes is an exception) and survive longer when they do develop them. These advantages are seen primarily in foreign-born Hispanics in the U.S.

Researchers have long been puzzled by this because Hispanics have lower average incomes and education levels than non-Hispanic whites, and such socioeconomic disadvantages usually result in shorter lives. That’s why this phenomenon has been dubbed the “Hispanic paradox.”

Note: We’re talking about averages here. There are large demographic and cultural differences among Hispanic groups just as there are among non-Hispanics.

There is no simple explanation for Hispanic longevity, but here are some likely contributing factors, according to demographers:

  • Strong family structure and social support. These serve as “a protective barrier against the vicissitudes of minority status and low socioeconomic conditions,” CDC researchers say.
  • Healthier lifestyles. Notably, Hispanics smoke less than non-Hispanics. Like many other immigrant groups, foreign-born Hispanics tend to have healthier diets than the average American.
  • “Healthy migrant effect.” That is, people who migrate here may be healthier on average than those they leave behind. This tends to be true of other immigrant groups as well.
  • “Return migration effect.” That is, some immigrants return to their birthplace when their health deteriorates, which could distort life expectancy estimates for Hispanics in the U.S.

On the downside: Hispanics who immigrated to the U.S. decades ago or were born here are at least as likely to be obese and sedentary as other Americans. Much research has found that as immigrant groups from poorer countries become acculturated—that is, adopt the diet and other cultural traits and behaviors of developed countries—their health tends to suffer.

What’s more, older Hispanics have higher disability rates than non-Hispanic white Americans, perhaps because of more demanding physical labor. “Foreign-born Hispanics’ mortality advantage thus is potentially a double-edged sword: Extended life appears to be accompanied by extended disability,” concluded researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, writing in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology in 2013.