Exploring Intercultural Relationships: A Study of Russian Immigrants Married to Native Israelis

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INTRODUCTION

Cross-cultural Dating and Marriage

Although intimate relationships between members of different groups forming diverse contemporary societies have always been seen as a sign of on-going integration and attenuation of mutual prejudice, in-depth research on these relationships has been surprisingly sparse (Adams & Trost, 2005). Macro-level sociologists typically used census and panel survey data to follow the trends in intermarriage, recently reporting on the emerging pan-ethnicity in marital choices, e.g., intermarriage between different Asian or Latino minorities (Jacobs & Labov, 2002; Kang Fu, 2007). Legal scholars have explored the history of Black-White marriage and interracial adoptions in the US, including their moral and political implications (Kennedy, 2003). In line with growing social diversity, terminology has also evolved: the adjective "intercultural" is increasingly used as more inclusive alternative to "interracial," especially in non-American contexts. It may refer to. a host of situations, including partners one of whom belongs to the hegemonic majority and the other comes from a minority group, or both come from two different minorities, or one is a recent immigrant of the same or different ethnicity.

Meso-and micro-level studies of exogamous couples have been relatively few and often informed by social-psychology theories of interpersonal attraction or, alternatively, inter-ethnic and group relations. They often drew on North American campus populations and focused on establishing patterns: who dates and marries whom and which personal and social characteristics shape these choices. Generally, American studies tapped on the tension between two opposite principles in partner search in diverse social milieu: the "similarity-attraction" principle and "celebration of differences" one (Brown et al., 2003; Sprecher & Reagan, 2002). A significant predictor of dating across one's group lines is having past "social exposure" to "Others" while growing up, e.g., by studying in multiracial school, international travel or parental circle of friends (Felmlee, 2001; Khatib-Chahidi et al., 1998). Another motive for out-group romantic search reflects on perceived masculine/feminine qualities of "Others" (e.g., docile and appeasing demeanor of Asian women or high earning potential of Jewish men) that are ostensibly lacking among "our own ilk," the theme that often comes to surface in dating ads (Sprecher & Regan, 2002). Similar social status of the' origin families has a stronger influence on inter-ethic partner choice than do religious differences or geographic location of origin countries (Brown et al., 2003; Yancey, 2002). Social support and approval by the friends and families is a salient factor of continuity of interethnic relationships (Felmlee, 2001).

In-depth studies of intercultural marriages transcending mere demographics are sparse and typically informed by a family therapy perspective (McFadden, 2001) and/or serve as self-help guides for individuals in such marriages (Romano, 2001; Visson, 2001). Few sociologists and social anthropologists explored the internal dynamics of intercultural marriage from the standpoint of identity, power relations, and gender roles using qualitative or ethnographic methods. A rare example of this approach is Breger and Hill's 1998 volume Cross-Cultural Marriage that brings together the studies in different countries and ethnic groups written from legal, sociological, and inter-personal perspectives. This and a few other publications suggest that individuals prone to long-term intercultural relationships often share some generic features: the perceived primacy of individual partner's qualities versus group stereotypes, universalism, secularism, and higher educational and social status (or rapid social mobility) compared to the origin group's average, as well as a higher sense of personal autonomy (Datzman & Gardner, 2000; Khatib-Chahidi et al. …