Latino Health Paradox is a Laughing Matter

Latina mothers tend to laugh more and have more high-quality conversations compared to White European mothers, which may explain their good health, according to a new UConn study.

Two women laughing. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

High-quality conversations and laughter may contribute to longer life expectancy in Latinx populations in the United States, according to a new study in PLosONE by the University of Connecticut.

Researchers sought to explain the Latinx health paradox — the fact that Latinx experience longer life expectancies than counterparts from other cultures despite their poorer socioeconomic and psychosocial circumstances — by exploring the impact of social networks and cultural processes.

Past research has proposed the sociocultural health resilience model by way of explanation, noting that the collectivism of Latinos compared to other cultures – the fact that they often live nearer to extended family – is a factor in their good health.

“Quality of conversations and conversational partners are two variables that haven’t been looked at before,” says Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, who led the study with Adrián García-Sierra from the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.

Researchers tracked the amount of time participants spent laughing as an indicator of well-being using audio recording devices to capture the participants’ day-to-day conversations. They studied 26 Latina women and 24 White-European women – all mothers – and each with an average of 32 hours of audio recordings. And, they analyzed the quality of the conversations and who the conversation partners were.

They found that mothers laughed more when they engaged in deeper conversations. Also, Latina mothers tended to laugh more and have more high-quality conversations compared to White European mothers. For laughter and substantive conversation, Latina mothers averaged around 10% higher than White-European mothers.

This trend may be due to the proximity of family members for Latina mothers, along with the values of “Simpatía,” which is a cultural expression of being kind, polite, and avoiding negative interactions, says Ramírez-Esparza. Latinas are talking to people they know very well, because they live closer to them.

Latinx cultural values extend beyond the family, the researchers note, because this socialization remained the same with others in their everyday lives as well. The behaviors are natural and not limited to familial interactions.

One interesting trend noted in both groups of women was the overall lower rate of high-quality conversations between women and their partners.

“We kind of know why, because in the busy day-to-day household routine, we are taking care of basic things and not necessarily having deep discussions,” says Ramírez-Esparza.

Ramírez-Esparza notes more study needs to be done on larger sample sizes and in a way that incorporates health-related data. She hopes to continue with these studies to explain the reasons for the Latinx health paradox and support of the sociocultural health resilience model.

“Despite the small sample size, we still have a lot of observational data from each participant in this study,” says Ramírez-Esparza.

And the data shows that laughter and good conversation appear to influence one’s well-being.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation of Learning Program grant to the LIFE Center (SBE-0354453).