Stockholm university

Research project Living longer in poorer health? Understanding the immigrant morbidity-mortality paradox (PARA-MOR)

The worldwide migration today are at historical levels. Previous research has shown that migrants live longer than natives, but also that migrants have higher morbidity rates. In other words, they live longer, but with poorer health. This project will examine this paradox, focusing on the migrant populations of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Project description

Woman walking with nurse old age home
Photo: Oleksandr Latkun/Mostphotos

Today, if international migrants all lived in a single country, it would be the fifth largest country in the world in terms of its population size. The rapid rise and diversification of worldwide migration in the past 50-years—and the irrevocable demographic change that this large-scale migration has exerted upon the countries that migrants move to—has no precedent in history.

There is clear evidence that migrants have lower death rates than the native-born population of their host country. This lower mortality can last for many decades after migrants arrive and is documented in a large, diverse range of migrant groups. Yet, when it comes to their morbidity (i.e., their burden of diseases and medical conditions) the situation is often reversed. Migrants typically have higher morbidity rates than the native-born population of their host country. This is a cause for concern because these findings suggest that migrants may be living longer lives in worse health. With numbers of migrants continuing to increase in both absolute and relative terms—and with migrants who arrived a long time now reach older ages in the host country—this issue should constitute one of the most highly relevant societal and public health concerns today.

However, beyond a limited amount of evidence from disparate data sources of variable quality and population coverage, there is a real absence of direct, coherent, empirical evidence that migrants are living longer lives in worse health. Funded by the European Research Council (ERC) this 1.5 million Euro project offers the first comprehensive study of this so-called migrant “morbidity—mortality paradox”.  It aims to establish the existence, extent, and causes of the paradox for the migrant populations of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It will do so by examining migrant morbidity, migrant mortality, the pathways between them, factors that affect this pathway—and how they differ to non-migrant populations. The project will make use of a number of administrative registers to link micro-level, longitudinal information that covers all of the information required to meet this aim. The project will utilise cutting-edge quantitative techniques and a wide range of analyses at both the population-level and the individual-level.

Ultimately, this research has the strong potential to (1) transform the limited way in which the health of immigrants (i.e., their morbidity and their mortality) is conceptualised and understood, (2) vastly improve how researchers analyse immigrant health, (3) prioritise immigrant health and its key role in wider population health, and (4) directly inform national and international policy.

Project members

Project managers

Matthew Wallace

Researcher, Docent

Department of Sociology