Health Difficulties in the Elderly Immigrant Population Health Difficulties in the Elderly Immigrant Population

George J. Borjas

NBER Retirement Research Center Paper No. NB 12-03
Issued in September 2012

This paper uses data drawn from the 2001-2010 American Community Surveys to examine the trends in the prevalence of health difficulties among elderly immigrants and natives. The analysis isolates a variable that contributes significantly to variation in health difficulties within the immigrant population: the age at which immigrants enter the United States. Remarkably, nearly a third of the foreign‐born persons aged 50 or more arrived in the United States after age 50. The analysis shows that immigrants who enter the country at an older age are much more likely to experience health difficulties than either natives or than immigrants who migrated at a younger age, and that th aging process leads to a much more rapid deterioration of health conditions for these "late entrants." Despite their rapidly worsening health conditions, the labor force participation rate tends to be stable, suggesting that the labor supply of immigrants who enter the country after age 50 seems to be quite inelastic. The continuing increase in the number of elderly immigrants, and particularly of immigrants who enter the country at relatively older ages, suggests that the study of the health difficulties encountered by this population is likely to provide important insights into the determinants of labor supply of this population, the timing of the retirement decision, the size (and sources) of the income flow received by these immigrants, and the funding of the Social Security system and related programs (on both the revenue and expenditure sides).

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