NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 27, 2004

Immigrants who come to the United States live an average of three years longer than people born here, new research shows in a surprising finding that challenges some common beliefs.

A growing body of evidence indicates the life span difference reflects both immigrants' innate vitality and their reluctance to embrace Americans' drive-through, drive-everywhere mentality. They also smoke less.

The study reviewed millions of death and health records from 1986 to 1994. Though the numbers are old, more limited studies of recent data suggest the same patterns hold true, although life expectancy is generally rising. The life expectancy deficit is true for all races but is most significant among blacks. Immigrant black men live nine years longer than black men born in the United States, according to an analysis by a National Institutes of Health researcher:

  • The records showed the average American-born black man could expect to reach 64, while a black man born overseas would likely live beyond 73 if he immigrated.
  • If the man was born in Africa but never left his home country, he might well have died before his 50th birthday.

Lifestyle appears to be a powerful factor:

  • Black immigrants are one-third as likely to smoke as American-born blacks, and far less likely to be obese.
  • Black immigrants drink less and exercise more, according to other federal research.

There are other factors, too, experts say: Immigrants are likely the most physically active, vigorous citizens in their homelands. They must be resilient to journey here and spread roots. They tend to benefit from stress-reducing social support networks and an outlook that, even when poor, they're better off than before.

Source: Associated Press, "Immigrants Outlive The U.S.-Born Population," Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2004.


Browse more articles on Government Issues