Open Access
Baker, Elizabeth Helene
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 19, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Jennifer Lynne Van Hook, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jennifer Lynne Van Hook, Committee Chair
  • Michelle Lynn Frisco, Committee Member
  • Nancy Landale, Committee Member
  • Marianne Messersmith Hillemeier, Committee Member
  • obesity; immigrant assimilation; Mexican-American;
Immigrants tend to be healthier than their native born peers on many factors, including obesity. However, to date, research has produced contradictory results about the potential contributors of this relationship as well as the magnitude of this phenomenon. This research examines weight assimilation, using both a pooled sample and a Mexican-American specific sub-sample of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort, as adolescents transition to adulthood. The negative health assimilation hypothesis states that overtime, there is convergence in the health between immigrant generations and natives. Examining this relationship longitudinally, using growth curve models, I find continued divergence rather than convergence. Immigrant generations weigh less at the beginning of the study period and gain less weight as they enter adulthood compared to native generations (1). In addition to documenting this phenomenon descriptively, this research also examined the different contexts that could contribute to this relationship, concentrating specifically on emerging young adult socioeconomic status and residence. Inequality in socioeconomic status contributes to health disparities, such that those with lower socioeconomic status have worse health than those with higher socioeconomic status. Immigrant children and children of immigrants often have lower origin socioeconomic status than children of natives and they tend to make great strides over the educational attainment of their parents. In addition, increases in educational attainment mean that children of immigrants spend an extended period of time in one of the most influential socializing institutions they will encounter during this phase of their life, college. Using OLS regression when the respondents are in between the ages of 24 to 28, I find that own emerging socioeconomic status, measured as education, is important to all generations, but this is especially true among the second generation, even controlling for family of origin socioeconomic status (2). Lastly, I examine the relationship between parental co-residence and weight using growth curve models. Strong immigrant families are suggested as one of the potential sources that allow immigrants and their children to overcome many of the disadvantages they face, such as disorganized neighborhoods and poverty. Also, immigrant children and children of immigrants are more likely to remain in their parents home longer and the implications this has on their adult outcomes differs from those found for children of natives. I find that non-parental co-residence is associated with weight gain among all generations, but only among the first and second generation is this weight gain not accounted for by partnering and childbearing (3). Other factors, perhaps related to acculturation and assimilation, drive this relationship for children of immigrants. These findings suggest that weight assimilation is a complex process, influenced by factors experienced in childhood, as suggested by the immigrants continued divergence in weight gain, and their immediate environment, as suggested by the importance of own emerging socioeconomic status and parental co-residence.