Low socioeconomic status and low mortality? examining the paradox among retired immigrants in Germany

Eva Kibele, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Rembrandt D. Scholz, MPI Demographic Resarch
Vladimir Shkolnikov, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Labour migrants who came to Germany starting in the 1950s and their descendants form a huge part of today’s migrant population in Germany. The first generation’s migrants were mainly blue-collar workers. The relationship between health, socioeconomic status and mortality in migrant populations is often ambiguous. Health and socioeconomic status is commonly lower among migrants compared to the local population. Despite these facts pointing to high mortality, migrant mortality is low in many cases, also in Germany, which is often explained by a healthy migrant effect. We were interested to see what the mortality pattern of migrants at age 65+ looks in comparison to their German counterparts and whether a possible healthy migrant effect translates also into old age. We used official population statistics as well as pension data in our analyses. Data from the German Statutory Pension Scheme covers more than 90% of the population resident in Germany. It is highly reliable due to rigorous validation of pensioners’ vital status. Data for male pensioners aged 65 and above for the years 1995, 1998, 2001, and 2004, by German and non-German nationality and further covariates were used to estimate life expectancy and mortality risk. Life expectancy estimates for retired foreigners based on official population statistics turns out to be strikingly overestimated (further life expectancy at age 65 of 30 years). Using the pension data, life expectancy of foreigners was slightly lower than that of Germans. However, considering the occupational status, white collar workers with foreign nationality show a mortality advantage compared to Germans. We conclude that low migrant mortality in Germany is a statistical artefact resulting from under-registered return migration, which leads to the significant underestimation of their mortality in Germany. A healthy migrant effect exists among those retired migrants with higher socioeconomic status, but migrants with low socioeconomic status are disadvantaged.

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Presented in Session 98: Migrant Demographic Behaviour: Morbidity and Mortality