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The longer you stay, the worse your health? A critical review of the negative acculturation theory among Asian immigrants.

Abstract

Researchers have become increasingly interested in the health patterns of immigrants with longer residence in the United States, as this reveals the health consequences of integration processes. The negative acculturation effect has been the dominant interpretation of duration patterns, despite empirical and theoretical uncertainties about this assumption. This theory assumes that immigrant health declines with longer residence in the United States because of poorer health behaviors and health risks that reflect Americanized lifestyles. This paper reviews the empirical support for the negative acculturation theory among Asian immigrants to determine if and when it is an appropriate interpretation for duration patterns. I conclude that empirical inconsistencies and methodological issues limit the negative acculturation theory as the primary interpretation for duration patterns. First, there is no consistent evidence that health behaviors decline with time. There is also substantial group heterogeneity in duration patterns as well as heterogeneity across health outcomes. The literature has not adequately addressed methodological shortcomings, such as confounding by cohort effects or non-linear duration patterns. Length of residence in the United States is still an important aspect of Asian immigrant health, but the mechanisms of this relationship are still understudied. I propose alternative frameworks between duration and health that consider environmental influences and end with future research directions to explore research gaps.

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