Children of immigrant parents have better mental health than native children

Photo: Amy. Creative Commons.

Research from around the world on children of immigrant background has shown that, despite the challenges of adapting to a new culture and experiencing poverty and discrimination, they have better mental health than children of native-born parents.

Researchers analysed data from 18,716 14- to 15-year-olds from immigrant families in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden (Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries) and looked for explanations for this finding. Data were collected from children of both immigrant and of native origin. The study examined five factors:

  • Family cohesion (closeness, time together, harmony)
  • Parental warmth (love, care, understanding)
  • Parental monitoring
  • Parental interest in schoolwork
  • Parental separation

The researchers measured these factors and also asked the children whether they experienced internalising problems (such as worry, depression, anxiety, headaches, and difficulty sleeping) or externalising problems (such as aggression and bad behaviour).

Like other research, the study found that the children in immigrant families have better mental health than native children (though the difference is not very large).

Among Middle Eastern and South European families, nearly all the difference in mental health between immigrant and native families could be accounted for by family factors – more cohesion, parental warmth, parental monitoring and parental interest in schoolwork. For Asian and African families, family factors accounted for some of the difference. Latin American immigrants, however, showed higher mental health despite higher frequency of family separation and weaker family relations.

The researchers propose other factors that might be at play to account for the rest of the difference. Perhaps immigrant families are more likely to have parents who are healthy and ambitious. Perhaps the children in these families are comparing their lot favourably with their previous situation, and this could be a factor in improving their mental health.

 

Mood C, Jonsson JO & Låftman SB (2016), The Mental Health Advantage of Immigrant-Background Youth: The Role of Family Factors, Journal of Marriage & Family