Cultural dissimilarity and intermarriage. a longitudinal study of immigrants in Sweden, 1990–2005.
ABSTRACT Intermarriage with natives is a key indicator of immigrant integration. This article studies intermarriage for 138 immigrant groups in Sweden, using longitudinal individual level data. It shows great variation in marriage patterns across immigrant populations, ranging from over 70 percent endogamy in some immigrants groups to below 5 percent in other groups. Although part of this variation is explained by human capital and the structure of the marriage market, cultural factors (values, religion, and language) play an important role as well. Immigrants from culturally more dissimilar countries are less likely to intermarry with natives, and instead more prone to endogamy.
Cultural Dissimilarity and Intermarriage
A Longitudinal Study of Immigrants in Sweden 1990–2005
Center for Economic Demography and Department of Economic History
P.O. Box 7083
22007 Lund, Sweden
Department of Economic History
University of Gothenburg
P. O. Box 720
405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
This work is part of the project Partner Choice and Career, financed by the Swedish Council
for Working Life and Social Research. Previous versions of this article were presented at the
Swedish Economic History Meeting in Uppsala, March 2009, at the seminar of the Centre for
Labour Market Policy Research (CAFU), Växjö University, April 2009 and at the annual
meeting of the Population Association of America, Detroit, MI, May 2009. We are grateful to
participants for comments and suggestions.
Intermarriage with natives is a key indicator of immigrant integration. This article studies
intermarriage between immigrants and natives for 138 immigrant groups in Sweden, using
longitudinal individual level data from the population registers. It shows great variation in
marriage patterns across immigrant populations from different parts of the world, ranging
from over 70 percent endogamy in some immigrants groups to as low as below five percent in
other groups. Although part of this variation is due to differences in human capital
characteristics and the structure of the marriage market, this article shows the important role
played by cultural factors (values, religion and language). Immigrants from countries
categorized as distant to native standards with regards to values, religion or language were
less likely to intermarry with natives, and instead more prone to endogamy, than were
immigrants from culturally more proximate countries.
Keywords: Intermarriage, endogamy, partner selection, culture, values, religion, language,
The issue of immigrant societal integration has received enormous attention all over Europe at
least since the early 1990s. The main focus has been on labor market related integration
concerning employment and income (e.g., Zimmermann, 2005), as well as on problems of
residential segregation and its possible effects on education and cultural integration of
immigrants into host societies (e.g., Schönwälder, 2007). More recently growing attention has
been devoted to the demographic integration of immigrants, for example in terms of fertility
behavior (e.g. Andersson and Scott, 2005) and health (McGee et al., 1999; Sundquist, 2002).
Intermarriage between immigrants and natives could also be seen as an indicator of the degree
of immigrant integration (see Meng and Gregory 2005, Furtado, 2006; Furtado and
Theodoropoulos, 2008; Dribe and Lundh, 2008; Meng and Meurs 2009).
According to the structural assimilation perspective (Gordon, 1964; Lieberson
and Waters, 1988), integration is a gradual process during which the acculturation and
structural adaption by the immigrant population take place. Integration is also a long term
process which may include more than one generation of immigrants, starting on the moment
of immigration and ending only when there are no perceived ethnic or structural differences
between the immigrant group and the majority population. In this perspective intermarriage is
a part of the integration process and its logical outcome.
Studies of immigrant economic integration usually view the pace of integration
as a function of individual demographic and human capital characteristics (e.g. sex, age,
educational level), the length of the adoption period and structural characteristics of the
receiving society (e.g. degree of residential segregation) (e.g. Chiswick, 1978; Borjas 1987,
1994. For an overview of Europe, see Zimmermann 2005). Some studies indicate that
intermarriage also has a positive effect on the economic integration of individual immigrants
(Kantarevic, 2004, Meng and Gregory, 2005, Dribe and Lundh 2008; Meng and Meurs 2009).
Thus, besides being a measure of social integration in itself, intermarriage is a factor that
potentially influences the integration process.
Empirical studies indicate that individuals generally prefer a marriage partner
that is similar with respect to race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, language,
religion, etc. (see Kalmijn, 1998 for an overview). Marriages between immigrants and natives
are thus underrepresented and ethnically endogamous marriages overrepresented in most
populations. However, several studies show that there is substantial variation across
immigrant groups in the propensity to marry exogamously with a native (Alba and Nee 2003;
Qian, Blair and Ruf, 2001; Jacobs and Labov, 2002). Since intermarriage is part of the
integration process, some determinants are similar to those of economic integration, i.e.
individual demographic and human capital characteristics and structural factors, but also
controlling for these factors large differences remain between immigrants from different
countries (Dribe and Lundh, 2008, 2010). Our main hypothesis is that such differences in
intermarriage rates reflect the degree of cultural dissimilarity (or distance) between
immigrants and the majority population.
In this article we study partner selection, particularly intermarriage with natives,
among immigrants in Sweden in the period 1990-2005. More specifically, we analyze the
influence of values, religion and language on immigrants’ tendency to intermarry with
natives, controlling for individual demographic and human capital characteristics and
structural factors. The majority of the native Swedish population is Lutheran Protestant with
Swedish as their mother tongue and English as a second language. As far as values are
concerned, Swedes are close to the polar positions of ‘secular/rational’ and ‘self expression’
in the Inglehart indexes of the traditional–secular/rational and survival–self expression
dimensions of values, respectively (Inglehart, 1997). Our main assumption is that a greater
cultural dissimilarity, in terms of values, religion and language, reduces the likelihood of
intermarriage between immigrants and natives, and vice versa.
Our study contributes to the literature in at least three ways. Firstly, while most
studies aim at describing the prevalence and pattern of intermarriage, we study the association
between cultural factors (values, religion and language) and partner selection of immigrants
(intermarriage and endogamy). This is possible as we control for individual demographic and
human capital characteristics as well as structural factors. Secondly, while most research has
been based on cross-section data, which makes it impossible to study the impact of conditions
before marriage on the likelihood of intermarriage, we use longitudinal data at the individual
level, which allows us to follow unmarried immigrants from immigration to marriage, death
or outmigration. Thirdly, while most previous studies of intermarriage include only one or a
few immigrant groups, which makes it difficult to distinguish the effects on intermarriage of
individual characteristics and structural factors from cultural and linguistic factors, and to
measure the separate effects of values, religion and language, we include 138 different
immigrant groups with great variation in cultural variables.
Theoretical background and previous research
Partner selection is a process of exposure of potential parties in the marriage market. The final
match reflects the preferences and strategies of the involved parties including the possible
interference of families, but it is also structured by collective norms and legal and religious
institutions. Historically and geographically, marriage varies with regard to the influence of
the individual and the family respectively, or with reference to legal or religious rules and
taboos. Also, the basic meaning and value of marriage itself varies from being an economic
arrangement to a union based on attraction, love and intimacy.
Previous research on partner selection point to an overall tendency towards
endogamy, for instance with respect to race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status,
religion, or other characteristics that are perceived to be important for the identity of the
individual and the group (Bernard, 1966; Bumpass, 1970; Heer, 1974; Monahan, 1976;
Porterfield, 1978; Johnson, 1980; DiMaggio and Mohr 1985; Mare, 1991; Kalmijn, 1998;
Henz and Jonsson, 2003; Rosenfeld, 2005). Like other forms of exogamous unions,
intermarriage is the exception rather than the rule. Assimilation theory has for long been the
most influential way to explain immigrant integration, and possible assimilation (i.e. complete
integration), into the host society. It has successfully predicted the path of integration and
marriage pattern of ethnic groups of European origin in the United States (Alba and Golden,
1986; Alba and Nee, 2003; Lieberson and Waters, 1988; Pagnini and Morgan, 1990).
According to the assimilation perspective, immigrants initially possess cultural and
socioeconomic features that distinguish them from natives, which hinder interethnic
marriages. The process of integration includes acculturation (e.g. learning the native language
or adopting the cultural patterns of the native group) and structural integration (e.g. achieving
socioeconomic status that is comparable to that of the native population). This process is
completed when there are no perceived differences between the immigrant group and the
native population (Gordon, 1964). Integration weakens the ethnic attachment and increases
contacts with potential partners from other groups, which increases the propensity of
exogamy. In this way, intermarriage is seen as an important part and the logical outcome of
the integration process (Lieberson and Waters, 1988).
Intermarriage requires three preconditions. Firstly, the prospective partners need
to be exposed to each other in the marriage market. Residential segregation, exclusion from
the regular labor market or gendered rules on the appropriate behavior of unmarried females
may restrict the exposure of immigrants to prospective native parties. Linguistic barriers may