Socioeconomic, cultural, and personal influences on health outcomes in low income Mexican-origin individuals in Texas

Luisa Franzini, Maria Eugenia Fernandez-Esquer
Social Science & Medicine 2004, 59 (8): 1629-46
Several studies have suggested that the health of Mexican-Americans is better than expected given their low socioeconomic status. The healthy migrant hypothesis and the acculturation hypothesis, stating that the foreign-born and the less acculturated enjoy better health, have been proposed as possible complementary explanations. However, it is not clear which are the socioeconomic, cultural, and personal characteristics that favor good health and that differentiate foreign-born from US-born and unacculturated from acculturated Mexicans. In this paper, we compare, by nativity and acculturation level, the socioeconomic, cultural, and personal characteristics in a sample of low income mostly female Mexican-origin individuals living in Texas and investigate their contribution to differences in self-reported physical health, mental health, and self-rated health (SRH) status. Using a multistage probability sample, we completed 1745 interviews with Mexican-origin individuals. The survey instrument included the SF-12, demographic and socioeconomic information, and questions on social support, religiosity, fear of victimization, trust, perceived racism, and perceived opportunity. Nativity and use of the Spanish language were combined into a nativity/acculturation variable. We estimated multivariate regressions and ordered logit regressions to investigate the association of health outcomes to nativity/acculturation and socioeconomic, cultural, and personal characteristics. Overall, the distribution of strengths (more social support, trust, perceived personal opportunities and less perceived victimization) reflected a nativity-based income gradient and an education gradient reflecting language use. Health outcomes varied by nativity/acculturation after controlling for socioeconomic, cultural, and personal characteristics. Physical health differed by nativity, supporting the healthy migrant hypothesis, while nativity-based differences in mental health were explained by socioeconomic and personal characteristics. SRH varied by language use, suggesting a culturally conditioned response. The socioeconomic, cultural, and personal factors affected health outcomes differently. These findings suggest a complicated interaction between nativity, acculturation, and economic factors in determining social and personal strengths and their influences on health.

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