Why Do Hispanics Live Longer?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In response to Olga’s writeup of a new study showing how middle-aged white Americans have been dying in greater numbers since 1998, a reader makes a great complementary point:

What I find shocking isn’t so much that non-Hispanic U.S. whites with less than a high school education are suffering in the highly unstable economic climate that has gotten progressively worse since the 1970s. What I find surprising, and what this article didn’t mention, is how U.S. Hispanics have been tracking down in average mortality rates since 1990, on par with the UK and even better than France and Germany. And this despite the fact that U.S. Hispanics tend to have even less education on average than U.S. whites, and that, proportionally, more U.S. Hispanics live in poverty and with less secure healthcare than U.S. whites.

[CB note: Here’s a good article on this “Hispanic Epidemiological Paradox.” There’s also a prodigious page on Wikipedia.]

There are other major variables at work here—most likely robust family cohesion and less social isolation among middle-aged U.S. Hispanics when compared to middle-aged U.S. whites. As a Hispanic American, I can attest that, anecdotally, robust family and social cohesion is definitely the case.

My parents, who are in their mid-50s, have settled in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood where they know most of their neighbors (who were complete strangers to them before they moved) and every weekend they visit at least one of those neighbors for a long lunch or dinner. At least a few times a year they organize and host this large gathering of neighbors and friends, where everyone eats at a table and my mother serves her well-known seafood soups.

My siblings have also not moved out of my parents’ house, and they’re in their mid to late 20s. My parents love having them there; I haven't heard much complaint from either of them. In Latin America it’s commonplace to have kids live with their parents in one home until the kids marry, which may sometimes be until the kids reach their 30s, so this is not odd to my parents.

My mother is also heavily involved in her church, and my dad loves going to his Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, also heavily people with Hispanics, so that's yet another thing that keeps them socially connected. I certainly don’t fear that my parents will live in isolation and without community any time soon.

Can you also speak to this “Hispanic paradox”? Drop me an email. Update from a reader who works as a statistician:

There much more recent literature/research completed by Lariscy et al in Demography, this year. It is available through Springer. Here’s a PDF.

From the paper's abstract:

Results affirm that Hispanic mortality estimates are favorable relative to those of blacks and whites, but particularly so for foreign-born Hispanics and smoking-related causes. However, if not for Hispanics’ socioeconomic disadvantage, their mortality levels would be even more favorable.