Language Acculturation and Immigrant Health Behaviors: The Contingent Effects of English-Language Proficiency and Use

Mesay Tegegne , University of South Florida

While extant studies have generally linked immigrant acculturation with negative health behaviors, little is known about the extent to which the effects of acculturation vary across time and context. Using Panel data from the New Immigrant Survey (2003, 2007), this study examines the relationship between language acculturation (English-language proficiency and use) and four immigrant health behaviors: smoking frequency, drinking frequency, dietary change and physical activity. Results indicate that the effect of language acculturation is contingent upon time, the measure of acculturation, the immigrant group, and the specific health behavior examined. While both English-language use and proficiency have implications for certain health behaviors, proficiency appears to be associated with more health behaviors and have long-term effects. Moreover, these effects vary across immigrant groups, especially the effects for drinking behavior. The effect of language proficiency on drinking frequency is significantly lower for Asian, black and Hispanic immigrants, compared to their white counterparts.

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 Presented in Session 168. Immigrant Integration and Incorporation