Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marriage Pattern of Immigrants in Sweden*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marriage Pattern of Immigrants in Sweden*

Article excerpt


As Lieberson and Waters (1988) point out, the increasing rate of mixed marriage between whites and non- whites indicates a weakening of racial and ethnic boundaries. According to Steinberg (2001), mixed marriage between immigrants and members of dominant groups is a clear indicator of the de-stigmatization of racialized immigrants groups and an important way for them to accumulate social capital (Loury, 2002), which in turn improves their prospects in the labour market (Behtoui, 2007).

Most research on the marriage patterns of immigrants has been conducted in the old immigrant countries, namely, the United States, Australia and Canada (Kalmijn and van Tubergen, 2006). It is therefore important to examine whether and to what extent the marriage pattern of immigrants in Sweden differs from those in traditional immigrant countries. Sweden is an interesting case because (a) following continuous immigration after the Second World War, among European countries Sweden today has the largest proportion of immigrants in its total population (Schierup, Hansen and Castles, 2006), and (b), in contrast to central and southern Europe, immigrants in Sweden historically have not been guest workers or irregular residents. They have enjoyed access to the welfare system, and more than 70 per cent of them hold Swedish citizenship (Schierup, Hansen and Castles, 2006: 195). Furthermore, as Schierup, Hansen and Castles (2006: 196) put it, 'Sweden is unique in Europe, with its political compact committed to combating racial exclusion'. Hence, in the case of Sweden it is interesting to examine whether, beyond 'discrimination in contract' (that is, unequal treatment of otherwise similar people on the basis of race/ethnicity in the execution of formal transactions), immigrants suffer from 'discrimination in contact' (that is, unequal treatment by natives socially, particularly in the arena of intimate relationships, such as choice of partner (on the distinction between discrimination in contract and discrimination in contact, see Loury, 2002).

People tend to marry those who resemble themselves in terms of socioeconomic background, status in the labour market, educational achievement and even ethnic and racial identity (Kalmijn, 1998). The literature labels partnerships within groups or between individuals who share a close proximity in the social space as 'homogamy ' or 'endogamy' . Partnerships across group boundaries attract such labels as 'heterogamy', 'exogamy', 'intermarriage' or 'mixed marriage' (Kalmijn, 1998).

At the present time there is a high degree of social acceptance in Sweden of immigrants from north-western Europe and North America (NW countries), which contrasts with widespread exclusionary attitudes towards immigrants from outside north-western Europe and North America (ONW countries). This pattern, as Castles (2000) has observed, is found in all west European countries. Therefore, the immigrants who are thought of as 'problematic' comprise only those from ONW countries (Behtoui, 2006). As Erickson (2004: 40) points out, immigrants from ONW countries are in many cases residents of stigmatized neighbourhoods and are concentrated in inferior segments of the labour market; consequently, 'prejudiced people do not find them attractive as potential acquaintances'. Earlier Swedish empirical studies confirm that individuals from ONW countries with similar levels of productivity to those of individuals from NW countries and natives nevertheless have an inferior status (in terms such as levels of employment or wage), and are more likely to suffer from discrimination (Behtoui, 2006).

Melle and Palm (2007) have assessed the perception of 'social distance' between natives and different groups of immigrants as measured by a statement on an eight-point scale. The results indicate a clear distinction in the eyes of natives between immigrants from NW countries and those from ONW countries. Despite some variation in perceived social distance vis-à-vis immigrants from ONW countries, the distinction between ONW countries and NW countries is sharp in the eyes of the majority population (Melle and Palm, 2007). …

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