‘Health paradox’ and former Soviet Union immigrants: towards an integrated theoretical framework


This study examines the critical mechanisms explaining the health outcomes of such understudied social group as immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU), including Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, among other countries. Literature on the ‘health paradox’ suggests that immigrants from various countries enjoy better health than their native-born counterparts. Importantly, however, this trend does not seem to exist among FSU immigrants, especially those residing in the United States. In addition, while research studies find that socioeconomic status (SES) is the fundamental cause of health and illness among native-born individuals, higher SES does not appear to be the health-protective factor among the FSU group, likely due to their unique experiences and beliefs. Consequently, a new model is necessary to provide a more nuanced explanation of health outcomes of immigrants from FSU countries. Drawing on medical sociology and epidemiology literature, first, this paper outlines unique factors that explain health of FSU immigrants and argues that particular attention should be paid to acculturation, its sources, and the mechanisms through which it affects health. Specifically, differential levels of acculturation shape the degree to which FSU immigrants engage in risky behaviours, hold unique beliefs, access health care, and cope with stressors, which, in turn, influences their physical and mental health. Second, hypotheses are proposed based on the new model to be tested by future studies and third, unique interactive effects on health outcomes are discussed including such factors as SES, gender, country of origin, and other social structural factors. Overall, this paper contributes theoretically to medical sociology, epidemiology, social psychology, and global studies by outlining the novel model conceptualizing immigration and health relationships among one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in contemporary society.

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