Diminished Health Returns of Educational Attainment Among Immigrant Adults in the United States

Shervin Assari, Sharon Cobb, Adolfo G. Cuevas, Mohsen Bazargan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Marginalization-related diminished returns (MDRs) refer to weaker health effects of educational attainment for socially marginalized groups compared to the socially privileged groups. Most of the existing literature on MDRs, however, has focused on marginalization due to race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Thus, very limited information exists on MDRs of educational attainment among immigrant populations in the United States. Aims: Building on the MDRs framework and using a nationally representative sample of US adults, we compared immigrant and native-born adults for the effects of educational attainment on psychological distress, self-rated health (SRH), and chronic diseases (CDs). Methods: The 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) has enrolled 33,672 individuals who were either immigrant (n = 6,225; 18.5%) or native born (n = 27,429; 81.5%). The independent variable (IV) was educational attainment, which was treated as a categorical variable. The dependent variables included psychological distress, SRH, and CDs, all of which were dichotomous variables. Age, gender, race, ethnicity, and region were confounders. Immigration (nativity status) was the moderator. Results: Higher educational attainment was associated with lower odds of psychological distress, poor SRH, and CDs. However, immigration showed a significant statistical interaction with college graduation on all outcomes, which were suggestive of smaller protective effects of college graduation on psychological distress, poor SRH, and CDs for immigrant than native-born adults. Conclusions: In the US, the associations between educational attainment and psychological distress, SRH, and CDs are all weaker for immigrant than native-born adults. To prevent health disparities, it is essential to decompose health inequalities that are due to low educational attainment from those that are due to diminished returns of educational attainment (i.e., MDRs). There is a need to help highly educated immigrant adults secure positive health outcomes, similar to their native-born counterparts. Such changes may require bold and innovative economic, public, and social policies that help immigrant adults to more effectively mobilize their educational attainment to secure tangible outcomes. Elimination of health disparities in the US requires efforts that go beyond equalizing access to education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number535624
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Nov 27 2020


  • chronic disease
  • immigration
  • nativity
  • population groups
  • psychological distress
  • self-rated health
  • socioeconomic position
  • socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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