Insights into the health and labor market experience of black immigrants in the United States : three essays on the labor market and health outcomes of black immigrants



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Abstract: Black immigrants are a demographically and socially important group in the United States. Between 1960 and 2005 the foreign-born share of the entire black population increased twenty-two fold. Furthermore, this group also accounted for more than 20% of the growth in the black population in the 2000s. In spite of the rapid growth of the black immigrant population, few studies have evaluated their health and labor market outcomes. The existing literature on black immigrants demonstrates that this group has health outcomes that are substantially different from those of other immigrant populations. Research illustrates that most black immigrants arrive in the United States with better health than black Americans and maintain this health advantage after more than two decades in the United States. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced among African immigrants.
Research in this area also demonstrates that certain subgroups of black immigrants, such as West Indians, have superior labor market outcomes compared to black Americans. Because of the phenotypic similarities between these two groups, these findings have led some scholars and policymakers to question the salience of discrimination and racism in determining the labor market outcomes of black Americans.
This dissertation expands the literature on the health and labor market outcomes of black immigrants by evaluating the salience of the major sociological theories, including immigrant versus native culture, bias of whites toward black immigrants over black Americans, and selective migration in explaining differences in labor market outcomes between black immigrants and black Americans. In an effort to better understand the unique health patterns among black immigrants, this dissertation also advances and tests a conceptual model that evaluates whether social, economic, and health conditions within the sending countries of black immigrants explain variations in health and disability among these immigrants. This dissertation uses data on males from the 1980-2000 U.S. Censuses and the 2001-2007 American Community Survey to estimate wage, employment, and self-employment models to determine if black immigrants have outcomes that resemble those of native blacks (collectively) or native black internal migrants. The results suggest that migration selectivity is important in explaining wage and employment differences between black immigrants and black natives. However, migration selectivity plays a limited role in explaining self-employment differences between black immigrants and black natives. This general finding is produced when black immigrants are evaluated collectively and when they are separated by both region and country of birth. This result suggests that differences that exist between black immigrants and black natives are the result of selective migration rather than culture. This work is the first to provide a comprehensive analysis of the importance of selective migration in explaining labor market differences between black Americans and black immigrants from all the major sending regions and countries of the world. This work also uses data on black immigrants from the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008 March Current Population Survey to evaluate the role that conditions in immigrants’ countries of origin play in explaining variation in health and disability among black immigrants in the United States. Estimates from reduced form health and disability models show that these outcomes are more favorable for immigrants who migrate from countries with high combined enrollment ratios, low income inequality, and high life expectancy. The results also demonstrate that country of origin conditions explain some portion of differences in health among immigrants.