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Health and well-being of male international migrants and non-migrants in Bangladesh: A cross-sectional follow-up study.

  • Author(s): Kuhn, Randall;
  • Barham, Tania;
  • Razzaque, Abdur;
  • Turner, Patrick
  • et al.
Abstract

Background

Temporary labor migration is an increasingly important mode of migration that generates substantial remittance flows, but raises important concerns for migrant well-being. The migration and health literature has seen a growing call for longitudinal, binational surveys that compare migrants to relevant non-migrant counterfactual groups in the sending country, in order to answer the basic question "Is migration good for health?" This study compares the health of male international migrants, internal migrants, and non-migrants using a unique representative panel survey of the Matlab subdistrict of Bangladesh.

Methods and findings

A cohort of 5,072 respondents born 1958-1992 were interviewed in 1996-1997, and reinterviewed in 2012-2014. Extensive migrant follow-up yielded a 92% reinterview rate. We explored health and income outcomes for respondents who at the time of the follow-up interview were current international migrants (n = 790), returned international migrants (n = 209), internal migrants (n = 1,260), and non-migrants (n = 2,037). Compared to non-migrants, current international migrants were younger (mean 32.9 years versus 35.8 years), had more schooling (7.6 years versus 5.8 years), and were more likely to have an international migrant father (9.7% versus 4.0%) or brother (49.1% versus 30.3%). We estimated multivariate ordinary least squares and logistic regression models controlling for a wide range of control variables measured as far back as 1982. Results show that current international migrants had substantially better health status on factors that likely relate to self-selection such as grip strength and self-rated health. Current international migrants had no excess risk of injury in the past 12 months compared to non-migrants (adjusted mean risk = 6.0% versus 9.3%, p = 0.084). Compared to non-migrants, current international migrants had roughly twice the risk of overweight/obesity (adjusted mean risk = 51.7% versus 23.3%, p < 0.001), obesity (6.9% versus 3.4%, p = 0.012), and stage 1 or higher hypertension (13.0% versus 7.0%, p = 0.014). Compared to internal migrants, current international migrants had significantly higher levels of overweight/obesity (adjusted mean risk = 51.7% versus 37.7%, p < 0.001). Current international migrants showed above average levels of depressive symptoms on a 12-item standardized short-form Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (+0.220 SD, 95% CI 0.098-0.342), significantly higher than internal migrants (-0.028 SD, 95% CI -0.111, 0.055; p < 0.001). Depressive symptoms differed significantly from those reported by non-migrants when restricting to items on negative emotions (international migrant score = 0.254 SD, non-migrant score = 0.056 SD, p = 0.004). Key limitations include the descriptive nature of the analysis, the use of both in-person and phone survey data for international migrants, the long recall period for occupational and mental health risk measures, and the coverage of a single out-migration area of origin.

Conclusions

In this study, we observed that international migrants had comparable or lower injury and mortality risks compared to respondents remaining in Bangladesh, due in part to the high risks present in Bangladesh. International migrants also showed higher levels of self-rated health and physical strength, reflective of positive self-selection into migration. They had substantially higher risks of overweight/obesity, hypertension, and depression. Negative health impacts may reflect the effects of both harsh migration conditions and assimilation into host population conditions. Our results suggest the need for bilateral cooperation to improve the health of guest workers.

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