Migrant Selection and the Health of U.S. Immigrants From the Former Soviet Union

Neil K. Mehta, Irma T. Elo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Few prior studies have investigated the health of U. S. immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU). Utilizing data from the 2000 U. S. census and the 2000-2007 National Health Interview Survey (NIHS), we compare levels of disability of FSU immigrants with U. S.-born whites (ages 50-84). Our findings suggest an "epidemiologic paradox" in that FSU immigrants possess higher levels of education compared with U. S.-born whites, but report considerably higher disability with and without adjustment for education. Nonetheless, FSU immigrants report lower levels of smoking and heavy alcohol use compared with U. S.-born whites. We further investigate disability by period of arrival among FSU immigrants. Changes in Soviet emigration policies conceivably altered the level of health selectivity among émigrés. We find evidence that FSU immigrants who emigrated during a period when a permission to emigrate was hard to obtain (1970-1986) displayed less disability compared with those who emigrated when these restrictions were less stringent (1987-2000). Finally, we compare disability among Russian-born U. S. immigrants with that of those residing in Russia as a direct test of health selectivity. We find that Russian immigrants report lower levels of disability compared with Russians in Russia, suggesting that they are positively selected for health despite their poor health relative to U. S.-born whites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-447
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Disability
  • Former Soviet Union
  • Health
  • Immigration
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography


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