Study: Older immigrants happier, more satisfied with life than native-born Americans

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Older immigrants living in the United States tend to be more satisfied in their lives than their natural-born counterparts, a study by Florida State University shows.

The research, led by Dawn Carr, an FSU assistant professor of sociology, found immigrants from white, Hispanic, and other racial groups had higher levels of happiness and total life satisfaction than those born in the U.S. on average. Of those surveyed, it appeared Hispanic immigrants living in America had the highest overall life satisfaction levels.

“We discovered that people who are foreign-born and living in the United States do have higher levels of life satisfaction,” says Carr in a university release. “We examined life satisfaction because it is a useful global measure for understanding how people are doing on the whole with regard to how they feel about their life. It’s a good way of capturing their overall well-being.”

The study began with Carr’s team wanting to know if the so-called “Hispanic Paradox,” which describes the phenomenon of older Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. being healthier than non-Hispanic whites, applied to overall happiness and life satisfaction.

Researchers pulled data on 7,348 adults over 60 for the study. Participants, who’d lived in America for an average of about 30 years, were surveyed in the most recent iteration of the Health and Retirement Study, the largest and most comprehensive study of older adults in the U.S., in 2014.

“The older adult immigrants in our sample adjusted to life in the United States, and they’re thriving more than their native-born counterparts,” says Carr. “This is particularly true for Hispanics, who maintain their well-being despite having fewer resources than their native-born counterparts. They seem to have developed a life that provides a good old age.”

An interesting factor in life satisfaction, according to the researchers, was education level. Whites with higher levels of education tended to have greater life satisfaction, but native and foreign-born blacks and Hispanics had the inverse relationship between education level and happiness.

“That was a puzzling discovery,” notes Carr. “This means that education does not seem to enhance the lives of minorities like we might expect. We do not know the reasons for these trends, but we might guess that factors like discrimination are involved, detracting from their overall happiness. For instance, someone who has a college degree, who is in a job with similarly educated individuals who are not minority, might be more overtly aware of the discrimination they’re experiencing.”

Older, foreign-born blacks did not share the same boosts in life satisfaction as those in other racial groups.

Carr believes that the next round of research should help determine factors behind the varying levels of happiness in later life.

The study was published in the Journal of Aging and Health.

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