17 July 1998

Born In The USA

Surprisingly, adolescents born in the United States to immigrant parents suffer poorer health and engage in riskier behaviours than children born in other countries who then move there with their parents.

That's the chief conclusion of a new study conducted on 20 000 randomly selected US teens by Kalthleen Hill, associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A report on her study will appear this autumn in the National Research Council book Children of Immigrants: Health, Adjustment, and Public Assistance.

"In sum, the most striking finding is the pattern of assimilation displayed by the increasing health problems and increasing propensity to engage in health risk behaviours across immigrant generations of youth," says Harris. "Perhaps the most consistent finding is that foreign-born adolescents have better physical health and engage in less risk behaviour, with the exception of use of birth control at first intercourse.

"Foreign-born youth experience fewer physical health problems, have less experience with sex, are less likely to engage in delinquent and violent behaviour and are less likely to use controlled substances than native-born youth."

Harris readily admits that trying to explain differences between youth groups would be mere speculation at this point. She now plans to explore family processes, peer networks, school climate and neighbourhood characteristics 'that might explain how protective factors associated with immigrant status are lost over time and across generations."