Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2015

Publication Title

The Journal of Developing Areas





First Page


Last Page




Considerable research has focused on whether or not immigrants’ health declines to match that of comparable native-born people. This immigrant health convergence is hypothesized to be driven by immigrants’ acculturation to American society and habits. This is particularly problematic for a country such as the United States which combines a high number of immigrants, bad health habits among the native born, and an expensive health care system. Previous research in this literature uses the duration of an immigrant’s current stay in the United States as the measure of exposure to acculturation. Using the duration of the immigrant’s current stay in the United States implicitly assumes one long-term move. However, the largest immigrant group in the United States (Mexicans) is characterized by a pattern of repeated migration trips. This paper separates out the effects of migration duration and lifetime cumulative experience for Mexican immigrants to the United States. The empirical analysis is carried out using data from the Mexican Migration Project. The Mexican Migration Project has been collecting data on Mexican immigrants to the United States since the mid1980s. Empirical results find that while overall time spent in the United States supports the acculturation hypothesis, single-trip migration duration has the opposite effect. The positive impact of single-trip duration on health is likely caused by recovery time needed to compensate for difficult crossings into the United States which have an even harsher effect on health if the individual undertakes short, repeated migrations. We also find that having Latino friends improves health while Anglo friends cause faster convergence and worse long-term health impacts. Both support the acculturation hypothesis. Results suggest that researchers need to focus on the cumulative impact of time spent in the United States rather than relying on just the duration of the latest trip. This suggests a much larger negative effect of migration on health than studies relying solely on migration duration. In the case of repeated migration patterns, this imposes costs on both the health care systems of the destination (USA) and source (Mexico) countries. Repeated immigration to the United States can result in acculturation which causes bad health habits to be brought back to Mexico, along with the accompanying costs these incur.

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