UCR research links anti-immigrant sentiment to higher mortality

Brittany Morey, a UC chancellor’s postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Policy at UCR, published an article in the journal Social Science and Medicine, that links populations with anti-immigrant sentiment to the mortality rate of immigrants residing in these populations. Working with Columbia professors Peter Muennig (health policy and management) and Mark Hatzenbuehler (sociomedical sciences) and UCLA Professor of Community Health Sciences Gilbert Gee, Morey discovered that anti-immigrant prejudice does not affect immigrants as a whole, but that U.S.-born ethnic minorities seem to fare worse.

In an interview with The Highlander, Morey stated that she was inspired to conduct this study well before the 2016 presidential election, before it was known who the candidates for the presidency were going to be. Morey stated that she noticed a lot of the rhetoric from early candidates contained the subject of immigration and she believed that these candidates held anti-immigrant sentiments. Morey stated, “I started to think to myself that this rhetoric or that simply living in a place with more prejudice could have an impact on health somehow. This inspired me to set out to answer this question.”

In order to conduct this study, Morey found a data set called the General Social Survey, published by The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which is an independent social research organization. The General Social Survey has been linked to the National Death Index, a United States resource available to researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics to obtain the cause of death of U.S. citizens occurring within the United States. This, according to Morey, is a very unique data set that has allowed her to look at whether social attitudes affect mortality. The General Social Survey asks questions about people’s opinions on race, religion, politics and immigration. Morey stated, “I was able to look at how these social attitudes around immigration were linked to a very concrete and unambiguous health outcome, which is mortality. I was able to see whether people who live in communities with very high anti-immigration prejudice die sooner or not.”

Morey said that she found some very surprising results. Prejudice against immigrant communities was not associated with equal results across the board. It was not associated with mortality for blacks or for whites even if they were black or white immigrants. It does, however, seem to be associated with mortality for a race category consisting of mostly Asians and Hispanics. Morey stated, “Surprisingly, those who were born in the United States and were Asian and Hispanic were dying off faster when they lived in a community with a high level of prejudice against immigrants whereas those who were foreign born Asian and Hispanic were not dying off as fast.”

Morey believes that this study is important because, “It tells us interesting things about how living in a prejudiced society and living in a more prejudiced climate can actually have an impact on health and an impact on mortality in ways that we do not expect.” Morey claimed that there seems to be a racialized component of anti-immigrant attitudes. She found that those who are U.S.-born Asians and Hispanics, who might be mistaken for being an immigrant, are actually faring worse in communities with prejudice against them. “To me,” Morey stated, “this indicates that there are unintended spillover effects of prejudice against immigrants that can affect those who might come from an immigrant family but are themselves born in the United States.”

Moving forward, Morey believes that it is important to consider how political rhetoric and anti-immigrant thought in general have unintended consequences and that it is also important to consider how large populations of color can be negatively affected in an anti-immigrant political climate.

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