Integrating social epidemiology into immigrant health research: a cross-national framework

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Dec;75(12):2060-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.040. Epub 2012 May 25.


Scholarship on immigrant health has steadily increased over the past two decades. This line of inquiry is often approached as a "specialty" topic involving a discrete de-contextualized population, rather than a topic that is central for understanding patterns of population health within and between sending and receiving countries. Frequently immigrant health research employs theoretical frameworks (e.g., acculturation) that emphasize cultural explanations, while less commonly utilized is the "social determinants of health" framework, which emphasizes social and structural explanations. Drawing upon literature in the fields of economics, sociology of immigration, and social epidemiology, we present a conceptual framework for understanding immigrant health from a cross-national perspective. We discuss the theoretical foundations of this framework; the methodological challenges for undertaking research on immigration and health using this framework; examples of emerging research in this area; and directions for future research. Progress in immigrant health research and population health improvements can be achieved through an enhanced understanding of population health patterns in sending and receiving societies. Immigrant health research needs to be better integrated into social epidemiology. Concurrently, immigrant health research offers conceptual, empirical, and analytic opportunities to advance social epidemiological research. Together, scholarship in immigrant health and social epidemiology can make significant contributions toward one of their mutual and ultimate goals: to improve knowledge about population health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Social Environment*
  • Sociology, Medical
  • United States