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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hispanic Names, Acculturation, and Health

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The Hispanic Health Paradox is that despite their disadvantaged socioeconomic status, Hispanics in the U.S. experience mortality outcomes that are similar to those of non-Hispanic whites. Why being Hispanic is protective remains an active subject of research. In this paper, we explore how a novel, continuous metric of Hispanic identity based on an individual’s first name helps us better understand health among Hispanics in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a rich dataset of Americans aged 50 and older. We document and characterize the Hispanic Health Paradox in mortality and health status in the HRS, and we examine the information contained within first names. We uncover a striking asymmetry in how the Hispanicity of the first name is associated with health outcomes and to a lesser extent with health inputs. For foreign-born Hispanics, a more Hispanic first name often signals healthier outcomes; but for native-born Hispanics, the reverse is true. The evidence is consistent with a story of an immigrant health advantage and differential assimilation among the second and later generations in which the more assimilated, with less distinctively Hispanic names, are healthier. But disadvantages among native Hispanics with more Hispanic names do not appear to be attributable to drinking,smoking, or exercise.

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