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Soc Sci Med. 2002 May;54(9):1379-88.

Life expectancy and mortality differences between migrant groups living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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Municipal Health Service, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


There is an apparent contradiction between the high level of morbidity and the low level of mortality observed in certain groups of migrants living in Europe. This observation should have some consequences for health policy development and the targeting of resources in a city like Amsterdam. In this paper a number of hypotheses to explain the low mortality in migrant groups are discussed. An analysis is made of mortality in Amsterdam using data from the civil registry as to mortality according to age, sex and nationality group of the deceased. Standard demographic techniques such as the standardised mortality ratio (SMR) and life table analysis were employed. Life table analysis shows that life expectancy in Amsterdam is lowest among residents of Dutch descent (73.3 yr for males and 79.1 yr for females) and highest among those of Mediterranean origin (77.6 yr for males and 86.1 yr for females). This appears to contradict previous research based on the SMR, which showed high mortality in migrant groups. To find the cause of this contradiction, the SMR and risk ratios by age are studied. The conclusion of this paper is that on the basis of life table analysis it appears that some immigrant groups living in Amsterdam have a remarkably high life expectancy. Since the SMR is sensitive to demographic differences between groups compared, questions can be raised about previous studies using the SMR. It has been suggested that the high life expectancy in migrant groups is not really caused by good health but by 'spurious' phenomena, such as problems in mortality registration. However, in view of the available data it seems likely that some migrant groups do in fact have high life expectancy, although the morbidity in these groups can be quite high. These findings should inform health-related policy.

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