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Contextualizing nativity status, Latino social ties, and ethnic enclaves: an examination of the 'immigrant social ties hypothesis'

Edna A Viruell-Fuentes, Jeffrey D Morenoff, David R Williams, James S House
Ethnicity & Health 2013, 18 (6): 586-609
23947776

OBJECTIVES: Researchers have posited that one potential explanation for the better-than-expected health outcomes observed among some Latino immigrants, vis-à-vis their US-born counterparts, may be the strength of social ties and social support among immigrants.

METHODS: We examined the association between nativity status and social ties using data from the Chicago Community Adult Health Study's Latino subsample, which includes Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latinos. First, we used ordinary least squares (OLS) regression methods to model the effect of nativity status on five outcomes: informal social integration; social network diversity; network size; instrumental support; and informational support. Using multilevel mixed-effects regression models, we estimated the association between Latino/immigrant neighborhood composition and our outcomes, and whether these relationships varied by nativity status. Lastly, we examined the relationship between social ties and immigrants' length of time in the USA.

RESULTS: After controlling for individual-level characteristics, immigrant Latinos had significantly lower levels of social ties than their US-born counterparts for all the outcomes, except informational support. Latino/immigrant neighborhood composition was positively associated with being socially integrated and having larger and more diverse social networks. The associations between two of our outcomes (informal social integration and network size) and living in a neighborhood with greater concentrations of Latinos and immigrants were stronger for US-born Latinos than for immigrant Latinos. US-born Latinos maintained a significant social ties advantage over immigrants - regardless of length of time in the USA - for informal social integration, network diversity, and network size.

CONCLUSION: At the individual level, our findings challenge the assumption that Latino immigrants would have larger networks and/or higher levels of support and social integration than their US-born counterparts. Our study underscores the importance of understanding the contexts that promote the development of social ties. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding Latino and immigrant social ties and health outcomes.

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