This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Mexican Health and Aging Study (MHAS) to study the cognitive function of Mexican-born older adults residing in the United States (Mexican immigrants). We find that, once differences in socioeconomic factors are accounted for, the cognitive function of male Mexican immigrants is statistically indistinguishable from that of male non-Hispanic (NH) whites, but the cognitive scores of female Mexican immigrants remain significantly below those of their NH white counterparts. We explore four potential hypotheses that may explain the cognition gap for female Mexican immigrants. Namely, we investigate whether the relative incidence of risk factors for dementia, when compared to NH whites, is higher for female than for male Mexican immigrants (the “risk factor hypothesis”); whether the mortality rate of male Mexican immigrants with low cognition is higher, relative to their white counterparts, than that of female Mexican immigrants (the “survival bias hypothesis”); whether female Mexican immigrants are less positively selected than their male counterparts in terms of predisposition to cognitive decline when compared with either the non-migrant Mexican population or the population of return migrants (the “differential selection hypothesis”); and whether male immigrants are better acculturated to life in the United States than female immigrants (the “acculturation hypothesis). We find no support for the risk-factor, survival, or acculturation hypotheses but we find evidence suggesting that the differential selection hypothesis may explain part of the female cognitive gap. Our results imply that older Mexican females currently residing in the U.S. may be at elevated risk for dementia and should be targeted by campaigns aimed at preventing or diagnosing the condition.
The full study can be found here.