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Healthy Immigrants, Unhealthy Ageing?

Every year, millions of people decide to leave their homes and move to Europe for many and varied reasons. But what happens to their health after the migration as they grow old in another country? Su Yeon Jang, together with Anna Oksuzyan, Mikko Myrskylä, Frank van Lenthe and Silvia Loi, explored this question in their latest paper.
Photo by Katarzyna Grabowska

In a recent study, Su Yeon Jang and her colleagues examined the differences in age-related health decline between immigrants and natives. Using the data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, or SHARE, this paper analysed the health of older adults in 28 European countries. The development of chronic diseases with increasing age was examined by the immigrants' region of origin and the country of destination in comparison with natives of the same age. The comparison focused on the number of chronic diseases.

Previously, studies have discovered that people who are new to a country tend to have better health than the locals, as the healthier individuals are more likely to embark on such an adventure. But the longer immigrants stay in a country, the worse their health gets, which eventually becomes similar to the native level. Stemming from these known phenomena, the authors question if the faster health decline in immigrants is related to the unhealthy ageing within the population. 

According to Jang and her colleagues, having an immigrant background is associated with a greater number of chronic health conditions relative to the native-born population at all ages. Also, the age-related increase of chronic diseases is generally faster in immigrants than in natives. However, the speed of chronic disease accumulation in immigrants slows down at age 65 and onwards, compared to their native-born counterparts. 

In addition, the paper finds that immigrants develop chronic diseases at different rates depending on where they come from or where they settle. For example, the speed of chronic disease accumulation in intra-European immigrants is largely similar to that of the natives. On the other hand, immigrants currently living in Eastern Europe accumulate chronic diseases at a slower pace compared to the native Eastern Europeans, which becomes even slower over age.

Overall, findings of the study on the regional disparities of the immigrant-native health gap indicate that the experiences of immigrants in the origin and receiving countries may have impact on the overall healthy ageing processes. These implications of ageing on the health of immigrants suggest that the public health strategies should be tailored for each group of the origin and destination regions, rather than being designed for the whole “ageing immigrant” population.

Additional Information


Su Yeon Jang

Authors of Original Article


Jang SY, Oksuzyan A, Myrskylä M, van Lenthe FJ, Loi S: Healthy Immigrant, Unhealthy Ageing? Analysis of Health Decline among Older Migrant and Natives Across European Countries, in SSM - Population Health, Volume 23, 101478 DOI: