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Trends in Fertility and Intermarriage Among Immigrant Populations in Western-Europe as Measures of Integration



Demographic data on fertility and intermarriage are useful measures of integration and assimilation. This paper reviews trends in total fertility and intermarriage of foreign populations in Europe and compares them with the trends in fertility of the host population and the sending country. In almost all cases fertility has declined. The fertility of most European immigrant populations and of some West Indian and non-Muslim Asian populations has declined to a period level at or below that of the host society. Muslim populations from Turkey, North Africa and South Asia have shown the least decline. Intermarriage is proceeding faster than might be expected in immigrant populations which seemed in economic terms to be imperfectly integrated. Up to 40% of West Indians born in the UK, for example, appear to have white partners as do high proportions of young Maghrebians in France.
Sci. (1994) 26, 107-136
Applied Social
Summary. Demographic data on fertility and intermarriage are useful
measures of integration and assimilation. This paper reviews trends in total
fertility and intermarriage of foreign populations in Europe and compares
them with the trends in fertility of the host population and the sending
country. In almost all cases fertility has declined. The fertility of most
European immigrant populations and of some West Indian and non-Muslim
Asian populations has declined to a period level at or below that of the host
society. Muslim populations from Turkey, North Africa and South Asia have
shown the least decline. Intermarriage is proceeding faster than might
be expected in immigrant populations which seemed in economic terms to be
imperfectly integrated. Up to 40% of West Indians born in the UK, for
example, appear to have white partners as do high proportions of young
Maghrebians in France.
New immigrant societies in Europe
The integration of immigrant populations is one of the greatest policy challenges
facing Western governments. Migration since the Second World War, much of it
organised during Europe's rapid economic growth up to
has created a population
of 14 million foreigners living in Western European countries. In the EC there are
about 5 million citizens of other European countries, mostly from the Mediterranean
and eastern edges of
In addition, Third World immigration streams of various
origins have established substantial colonies within almost all European countries,
differing in colour, language, religion, and economic and political background from the
host population. Altogether in the EC these number about 8 million foreigners of
various non-European origins, of whom almost 5 million are Muslim. They have
stayed and grown in numbers through higher fertility, family unification, migration for
marriage, illegal immigration and asylum seeking.
108 D. A. Coleman
In many cases foreigners remain poorly integrated economically and socially. The
relative poverty of the immigrants, their higher rates of unemployment, and their
poorer standards of housing are well documented. So are the insults and discrimination
to which they are subject and, in some cases, higher rates of crime, especially of the
younger generations of some immigrant groups. The rise of large and geographically-
concentrated urban colonies of foreign populations have created new ethnic and
religious divisions when, in most European countries, class distinctions seemed to be
fading and denominational differences declining in importance (de Hoog, 1979; Schoen
& Thomas, 1990). This is most pronounced among immigrant groups from Third
World agrarian societies, and least in relation to migrants from the EC or its poorer
European neighbours. As a result of integration policies, host populations are
expected to accept new multi-cultural definitions of their society, changes in welfare
housing and education systems which have not been universally welcome.
This paper is about the contribution that demographic statistics can make to
measuring the processes of integration and assimilation. It will be restricted to statistics
on fertility and marriage. Data on mortality are important for charting the welfare of
immigrants (Marmot, Adelstein & Bulusu, 1983). Those on household structure are
particularly valuable as signposts to integration because of the sharp differences
between Western and Third World demographic regimes (Haskey, 1989). Above all,
integration is closely related to the pattern and trend of geographical segregation of
immigrant populations (Duncan & Lieberson, 1959; Peach, 1983). These three topics
are omitted here only because of the need to keep the paper within manageable limits.
'Immigrant population' is used here to denote population of post-war immigrant origin,
irrespective of birthplace or nationality. Most Continental European data refer to foreign
nationals; most British data refer to immigrants or to ethnic minorities.
Defining terms
Most European countries have adopted policies of 'integration'. This word has
many meanings and there is a wide variety of integration policies. They share the aim
of ensuring that immigrants, foreigners or minorities can participate in the economic
life of the host society and that impediments to such participation are removed. In
practice such policies relate particularly to access to housing, education and employ-
ment, and to protection from discrimination and racial insults or attack. They vary
in the emphasis they give to the foreigners themselves removing impediments to their
own progress—by learning the language of the host country, for example. Some
countries (e.g. Germany, Switzerland) appear willing only to accept the integration of
foreigners on their own terms, and expect substantial prior assimilation as the price
of residence and naturalisation. Others, such as Sweden, have adopted multicultural
policies to allow foreigners to continue living their own way of life. There are sharp
contrasts in the emphasis on individual equality of opportunity or recognition of
collective rights of officially defined minority groups. French rhetoric against 'une
logique des minorites' and for 'une logique d'egalite' (Prime Minister Rocard's
speech, April 1991) has in practice responded pragmatically to meet immigrant
demands. In the Netherlands since 1980, and to some extent in Britain, 'multicultural'
policies recognise the end of the dominance of the traditional culture, although in
intermarriage among immigrants
some countries (Netherlands, Sweden) they have come under attack in recent years
from public opinion. The British government has no clear idea what to do; policy is
in the hands of local authorities and independent arms of government (Coleman,
Policies accordingly differ in the emphasis given to the notion of 'assimilation',
normally taken to mean a more socially intimate absorption by the host society so
that the immigrant group ceases to have much discernible separate existence. Such
processes are seen as threatening by some minorities. The word itself can be regarded
as threatening and pejorative (Tribalat, 1991) although it will be used in this account in
a descriptive sense. The French word 'insertion' has no easy translation in English. In
Dutch usage the term 'minority' is specifically intended to refer to a distinct ethnic
group with low social position which is too small to exert power effectively in its self
defence (Penninx, 1989). In British usage and in this paper 'minority' does not have
this specific connotation of deprivation and ghettoisation, although in practice most
minority groups in Britain have low social status.
Culture can be seen as 'a set of adaptively useful concepts carried in the minds of its
members, transmitted between generations by language', 'the knowledge, values, atti-
tudes and techniques necessary to cope with the total environment wherein it has been
traditionally oriented' (Owen, 1965). Common culture and language help to define
ethnicity. An ethnic group may be defined as a 'named human population possessing a
myth of common descent, common historical memories, elements of shared culture, an
association with a particular territory and a sense of solidarity' (Smith, 1989). In most
European countries, immigrant populations are defined by nationality. In principle this
should be unambiguous, although it is complicated by dual nationality and complex
rules (e.g. in France) for the automatic acquisition of nationality by the children
of certain categories of immigrants either at birth or at age 18. Some countries (e.g.
Sweden) have active naturalisation programmes.
The question at issue is the behaviour of ethnically different populations in Western
countries rather than of foreign nationals as such. Through naturalisation such people
disappear from view (unless it is held that they have lost all 'foreign' characteristics on
naturalisation). For example, an enquiry by INED in 1986 showed that of
persons age 20 or under who were immigrant or who had immigrant parents, only 1-3
million had foreign nationality and of these 800,000 would lose it by age 18 (Tribalat,
This concealed immigrant population may cause data on intermarriage and
fertility to be misinterpreted. The lack of trend in the proportion of intermarriages of
(for example) Belgians with foreigners—10% for over a decade—may be due to this
phenomenon (Dumon, 1989). Identifying or describing such populations, especially the
children born in the host country, is only straightforward if they do not automatically
receive citizenship, as in Germany. In the Netherlands, where such persons are more
often naturalised, the term 'second-generation immigrant' is often used (Netherlands
Scientific Council for Government Policy, 1990).
The definition of 'ethnic minority' populations irrespective of birthplace can be
useful in analysis (e.g. Netherlands and the UK). These categories are usually defined
on the basis of national origin, which is still a reasonable approximation to reality.
The immigration is recent, the Third World cultures involved are distinctive. In-
evitably national categories combine groups from countries which are historically
110 D. A. Coleman
multi-ethnic: 'Indian' includes Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, Tamils and Gujeratis,
Parsees and Bengalis. However, most have more in common with each other than with
any other national origin group. In the British context 'South Asians' form a group
distinct from others (Dahya, 1988).
The new mixed ethnic populations arising from intermarriage fit badly into these
divisive categorisations. Such persons may choose either to identify with a new mixed
community or with one or other of the parental or grandparental groups (Shaw, 1988;
Benson, 1981; Nanton, 1992). This amalgamating process is not recognised in most of
the categorisations used in routine gathering of statistics or analysis in most European
countries; indeed it is impossible to do it in a system depending solely on atomic
notions of nationality. Despite its increasing numerical importance, the 'mixed'
category is being squeezed out of the British ethnic system of classification (Nanton,
a victim of policies and attitudes conceived in a static framework which empha-
sise the permanent separateness of ethnic groups and which are tending to incorporate
them permanently into the welfare and legal systems.
The demographic connection
Integration and assimilation are affected by demographic variables and have
important demographic consequences, depending on the demographic regime of the
sending country. With the partial exception of Yugoslavs, European immigrants typi-
cally came from countries with basically similar demographic regimes to those of the
receiving countries. For the most part they were poorer and more rural, at an earlier
stage of the demographic transition with higher fertility and mortality, strong tra-
ditional family forms and low illegitimacy. By contrast, with the partial exception of
people from the Caribbean and Turkey, Third World immigrants typically came from
countries which had hardly started the demographic transition. They were still agrarian
societies with demographic regimes typically of a 'high pressure' type with higher rates
both of fertility and mortality than were usual in European history. Their systems of
marriage, family, inheritance and honour usually demanded early and universal marriage
for women, parental control over partner choice, dowries (or occasionally bridewealth)
and often permitted polygamy. Immigrant societies from the Caribbean brought
unique family systems where single parenthood and female-headed households were
The translation of these societies to Europe can be regarded as a huge and unin-
tended demographic experiment, where such traditional attitudes are immediately con-
fronted by a radically different environment. There, the original logic behind their
demographic regime (for example, relating to the economic utility of children), and
many other aspects of their lives, may be substantially undermined and lead to conflict
with their new material aspirations or with the norms of the host society. The expec-
tation is, of course, that their demographic transition will be initiated or accelerated by
the new environment, and that convergence with the demographic regime of the host
society will take place, much faster than if the migrants had remained in the country
of origin. The expectations need to be spelled out in more detail, to take into account
a number of theoretical models which consider the specific 'minority' aspects of the
intermarriage among immigrants
ethnic minority demographic behaviour
There are a number of theoretical models for immigrant and minority fertility
trends and other demographic responses, mostly derived from US experience of their
long-standing minorities rather than of recent immigrants (Bean & Frisbie, 1978). They
tend to be incomplete and self-contradictory, poorly integrated into broader demo-
graphic theory (Coleman, 1983; Schofield & Coleman, 1986). The 'characteristics' or
'attributes' model is a straightforward socioeconomic deterministic model. It does not
include any specific minority effect or any autonomous cultural or ideological
effects. According to this view the higher fertility and other demographic differences of
minority populations are accounted for by their (usually inferior) socioeconomic pos-
ition, and will disappear when they are fully integrated into the employment structure
and enjoy similar income distributions etc. to those of the majority population.
It is always necessary to take socioeconomic differences into account in analysis.
Such factors may be most appropriate in the study of fertility differences among
European immigrant populations. But they are not appropriate to recent Third World
immigrants whose demographic regimes evolved in very different economic and risk
environments and whose fertility levels go far beyond the range of even the poorest
social groups in Europe. Such factors may account for more of their fertility
differences after they have become further acculturated.
The 'minority status' hypothesis exists in two contradictory guises. The first
suggests that immigrants may overcome their material disadvantages to upward social
mobility by severely limiting their family size and delaying their marriage, below
the level expected from their economic status. Jews in the US and in the UK, the
models for this pattern, experienced early demographic transitions from the non-West
European fertility and marriage patterns of the immigrant cohorts of the 1880s (Kosmin,
Chinese and Japanese in the US also have had lower than average fertility for
many years, despite the initially lowly social status of their 19th and early 20th century
founders. College-educated US blacks also had lower fertility that US whites in the
1970s (Ritchie, 1975).
However, most recent poor immigrants have not shown such rapid transitions. The
minority status may interact with fertility in another way. Immigrant groups may
respond to protect themselves by maximising factors affecting the recruitment and
retention of their members to avoid falling numbers, assimilation and extinction. These
responses, termed 'defensive structuring' (Siegel, 1970) include high fertility and
hostility to family planning, geographical segregation, strong control over marital
choice and sanctions against those who marry outside the group or who leave the faith
or community, often associated with a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of religious
injunctions. Such responses may be found among Hutterites and other Mennonite
Christian sects, Hassidic Jews, some groups of Shia Muslims. Some populations,
especially Muslims, tend to emphasise such characteristics irrespective of their minority
status (Weeks, 1988). High fertility among modern Roman Catholic populations is
more confined to minority circumstances (Day, 1968).
Recent demographic theory emphasises the importance of 'ideational' factors, the
changes in values and attitudes which lie behind measurable demographic change. Such
112 D. A. Coleman
ideas have been used to account for fertility transitions and their timing in Europe and
in the non-industrialised countries (Lesthaeghe, 1983; Cleland & Wilson, 1987). These
ideas do not seem to have been prominent in the analysis of fertility trends among
Third World immigrants to Europe or in the study of minority demography in general.
In fact demographic theory in these areas is little developed. There is also little inter-
nationally comparable information on the cultural factors affecting fertility among
immigrants in the West, such as preferences on family size and sex of children, atti-
tudes towards the role of women and towards contraception, and on the ways that
these are changing (but see IPPF, 1992).
There are, therefore, in theory, a number of ways in which immigrants in Europe
may respond demographically to their new circumstances. Forecasting their behaviour
is complicated by the variety of attitudes and competences of different societies and by
interaction with the host population, especially the extent to which it facilitates the
geographical concentration of immigrants, and by the open-ness of the society and its
perceived hostility towards immigrants. Immigrant groups should not all, therefore, be
expected to respond in the same way.
(1) European immigrants with similar but more backward demographic regimes
may be expected to converge fast. Any residual differences are likely to be accountable
for by socioeconomic characteristics.
(2) Non-European immigrants with different demographic regimes may show a
more gradual and varied demographic transition. Some may show accelerated
transition to maximise their socioeconomic status. Other more embattled minorities
may develop a more