Maternal and Infant Health of the Mexican-Origin Population in the United States: The Role of Acculturation, Duration, and Selection

Ceballos, Miguel, and Alberto Palloni
Working paper no. 2010-16


A significant body of research on minority health shows that while Hispanic immigrants experience unexpectedly favorable outcomes in maternal and infant health, their advantage deteriorates with increased time of residence in the United States. This is referred to as the “acculturation paradox.” Utilizing a sample of first generation Mexican immigrant women living in two Midwestern communities, we test two hypotheses explaining this “acculturation paradox” for birth and child health outcomes. The first attributes deterioration to negative effects of acculturation and behavioral adjustments made by immigrants while living in the U.S., and the second to a process of a return migration selection. These results are verified by conducting a similar analysis with a nationally representative sample of Mexican immigrants. We find duration to have a nonlinear relationship and acculturation to be positively associated with birth outcomes. Finally, a sibling analysis of birth outcomes is conducted to test for migration selection. We find indirect evidence supporting the return migration selection hypothesis.