Abstract Background Most previous research on migrant health in Europe has taken a cross-sectional perspective, without a specific focus on the older population. Having knowledge about inequalities in health transitions over the life course between migrants and non-migrants, including at older ages, is crucial for the tailoring of policies to the demands of an ageing and culturally diverse society. We analyse differences in health transitions between migrants and non-migrants, specifically focusing on the older population in Europe. Methods We used longitudinal data on migrants and non-migrants aged 50 and older in 10 southern and western European countries from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (2004–2015). We applied multinomial logistic regression models of experiencing health deterioration among individuals in good health at baseline, and of experiencing health improvement among individuals in poor health at baseline, separately by sex, in which migrant status (non-migrant, western migrant, non-western migrant) was the main explanatory variable. We considered three dimensions of health, namely self-rated health, depression and diabetes. Results At older ages, migrants in Europe were at higher risk than non-migrants of experiencing a deterioration in health relative to remaining in a given state of self-rated health. Western migrants had a higher risk than non-migrants of becoming depressed, while non-western migrants had a higher risk of acquiring diabetes. Among females only, migrants also tended to be at lower risk than non-migrants of experiencing an improvement in both overall and mental health. Differences in the health transition patterns of older migrants and non-migrants remained robust to the inclusion of several covariates, including education, job status and health-related behaviours. Conclusions Our findings indicate that, in addition to having a health disadvantage at baseline, older migrants in Europe were more likely than older non-migrants to have experienced a deterioration in health over the study period. These results raise concerns about whether migrants in Europe are as likely as non-migrants to age in good health. We recommend that policies aiming to promote healthy ageing specifically address the health needs of the migrant population, thereby distinguishing migrants from different backgrounds.
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