Academic journal article Population

Does International Migration Lead to Divorce? Ghanaian Couples in Ghana and Abroad

Academic journal article Population

Does International Migration Lead to Divorce? Ghanaian Couples in Ghana and Abroad

Article excerpt

Sociodemographic studies have found that international migration can result in an increase in divorce (e.g. Andersson and Scott, 2010; Frank and Wildsmith, 2005; Hill, 2004; Landale and Ogena, 1995). Two explanations prevail. First, the act of moving is a stressful life event, resulting in a greater likelihood of divorce (Boyle et al., 2008), and this stress associated with moving might increase when international borders are crossed. Second, migration policies have become stricter, making it difficult to migrate as a family. Consequently, more families are geographically separated and faced with the challenge of arranging family life transnationally. While living transnationally might be unproblematic for some, for others it could cause marital stress and eventually result in divorce.

Many studies evaluate the extent to which immigrants follow family formation or dissolution patterns that are similar to those of native counterparts in destination countries. Yet these studies are inconclusive about whether it is the act of migrating that leads to higher divorce rates because this would require a comparison with divorce rates of non-migrants in the origin country (Clark et al., 2009; Glick, 2010). Data for such comparisons are few and far between, as data collection typically takes place in destination countries (with some exceptions: e.g. Frank and Wildsmith, 2005; Hill, 2004). The current study compares divorce rates of Ghanaian couples with and without international migration experience. Ghana has high rates of both international migration (Twum-Baah, 2005) and divorce (Tabutin and Schoumaker, 2004). Although these findings could indicate a relationship between the two, anthropological studies argue that marital relationships in some parts of Africa - and Ghana is no exception - are historically flexible due to the effects of matriliny, the existence of polygyny, and wider sociopolitical conditions (Boni, 2001; Clark, 1994; Fortes, 1950; Manuh, 1999; Oppong, 1970, 1980). It is therefore important to compare migrants with their counterparts who stay in the country of origin.

Migration between Africa and Europe includes independent male and female migration (Grillo and Mazzucato, 2008). Furthermore, increasingly strict migration laws make it difficult for couples to migrate together, so transnational couples, where one partner migrates and the other stays in the country of origin, are increasingly common. The analysis presented here therefore also compares transnational couples where the husband or wife migrates. By accounting for such couple configurations, this study pays particular attention to the different effects of male and female migration experiences, as previous studies have found gender differences in the effects of migration, such as changes in gender roles that affect men and women differently (Gallo, 2006; Hill, 2004; Jolly and Reeves, 2005).

The case of sub-Saharan African migration studied here makes a new contribution to a scholarly literature that has predominantly focused on migration between Latin America or Asia and the United States, or on former guest workers and migrants from former colonies in Europe (e.g. Constable, 2003; Frank and Wildsmith, 2005; Glick, 2010; Hill, 2004; Landale and Ogena, 1995). This has resulted in a knowledge gap concerning "new" migrant groups, despite the fact that these groups constitute a significant proportion of existing migration systems. The contexts of migration in sub-Saharan Africa are distinctive, firstly because spousal separation is commonly practiced in many West African countries, and secondly because family reunification policies of their destination countries are more restrictive than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, when many guest workers reunited with their families (Mazzucato and Schans, 2011).

We examine the relationship between migration and divorce by means of discrete-time event history analysis, using life histories collected from Ghanaian migrants, returnees, migrant spouses, and non-migrants in 2009. …

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