The migrant mortality advantage: A 70 month follow-up of the Brussels population

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81 Scopus citations


There is considerable evidence that first generation immigrants to developed countries tend to have lower mortality than does the population as a whole at their destination. This advantage is usually ascribed to a selection process which makes migrants more robust than the local population and/or an acculturation process whereby third-world migrants lose their natural healthy life style as they take on modern urban dietary and living habits. We investigate immigrant-local mortality differences using a 6-year follow-up of the complete Brussels population aged 25-55, as enumerated at the Belgian census, 1991. We show that adult migrants have lower mortality than their native-born counterparts, despite their often poorer living arrangements, work status and human capital. This effect differs by origin group. The effects of age on mortality are similar for all groups, with mortality increasing about 8% a year. This increase is slightly greater for the Belgian born than for immigrants, which makes the selectivity explanation unlikely. Years since migration does not significantly increase the mortality risk for most groups, contradicting the acculturation hypothesis. Thus, explanations ascribing immigrants' mortality advantage to migrant selectivity, pre-modern cultural practices, or an artefact of population recording practices are insufficient. We propose, instead, an explanation based on the meaning migration has for the immigrant, and the hope engendered in the move, particularly that from a lesser to a more developed country.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-218
Number of pages28
JournalEuropean Journal of Population
Issue number3
StatePublished - 21 Dec 2004


  • Belgium
  • Hope
  • Immigration
  • Mortality
  • Survival-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography


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