Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Committee Chair(s)

Erin Trouth Hofmann


Erin Trouth Hofmann


E. Helen Berry


Mark Brunson


Jennifer Givens


Peggy Petrzelka


Population growth increases pressure on the environment. Immigration may be harmful to the environment because it is the major force of population growth in the United States. However, this argument has not been supported by research findings. A few studies on this topic show that locations with higher numbers of immigrants experience better air quality than locations with greater proportions of U.S.-born residents. This research investigated the environmental impact of immigration through three independent studies. First, I tested the relationship between U.S.-born population, foreign-born population, and air quality across all the U.S. continental counties. This study analyzed the air quality data extracted from the Environmental Quality Index (EQI) provided by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA). The results showed that U.S.-born population was associated with worse air quality, while foreign-born population was associated with better air quality. These associations varied by immigrants’ origin and year of entry. Second, I examined the association between populations and air quality across some contiguous U.S. counties over eight years from 2007 to 2014, using the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI). I found that total population, U.S.-born population, and foreign-born population were not associated with worse but better air quality. The results indicated that population may not be the root cause of environmental harm. Third, I explored the differential associations between populations and the environment through interviews with Chinese immigrants, Mexican immigrants, and U.S.-born Whites regarding their household environmental behaviors. The research found different environmental behaviors among the three groups. The immigrants tended to use less energy, drive less, and produce less waste. The study suggests that culture has an influence on environmental sustainability.



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