Academic journal article Demographic Research

Transnational Relationships and Reunification: Ghanaian Couples between Ghana and Europe

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Transnational Relationships and Reunification: Ghanaian Couples between Ghana and Europe

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the context of international migration, transnational relationships in which couples live apart together across borders (LATAB) are common because of the limited possibilities of migrating together. In recent decades migration laws in Europe have become stricter, creating barriers to entry and limiting possibilities for family reunification (Kraler 2010; Leerkes and Kulu-Glasgow 2011). These limitations apply especially to couples coming from developing countries. As a result, transnational relationships are gaining prominence (Kofman et al. 2011). At the same time, living transnationally might be a choice for some couples, such as when geographical separation is a continuation of previous spousal living arrangements. This choice may particularly be the case where marital relationships have an independent and fluid character, as has been documented in some parts of Africa.

This paper explores the extent to which transnational couples reunify or remain transnational. Generally, studies that address couples and migration do not explicitly consider the transnational living arrangements that may result from migration. Studies often focus on couples that migrate either jointly or successively (e.g., Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994; González-Ferrer 2007), and these studies concentrate on the labor market outcomes of either or both partners (Boyle, Feng, and Gayle 2009; Wagner and Mulder 1993). This is largely due to a lack of adequate data, since information about family members living at destination as well as at origin is needed to assess the prevalence of transnational relationships. Most survey data or administrative data do not capture this, which is why there is still limited insight into the extent to which family reunification takes place, since this would require information about those that reunify and those that remain transnational (Beauchemin et al. 2015).

Moreover, it is generally assumed that couples have been living together before migration and that all couples aspire to reunify (Landolt and Wei Da 2005). Questions regarding how these living arrangements might be shaped by the situation in the origin or destination country are often left unanswered. This explorative study examines the factors that influence couples' reunification in the country of destination. We investigate to what extent living transnationally or not is the consequence of migrants' choice or whether socio-economic or policy-related characteristics in the destination country shape migrants' spousal living arrangements.

We aim to contribute to the literature on migration and family life in three ways. First, in line with studies from the field of transnationalism, we consider it crucial to study not only migrants but also partners who remained in the country of origin (Grillo and Mazzucato 2008; Kanaiaupuni 2000; Levitt 2001; Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004). Family members who stay behind are an integral part of transnational relationships as they can play an important role in maintaining households across borders: for instance, by being involved in decision-making processes, financial or otherwise. Additionally, couples are influenced by norms regarding conjugal life in their origin country. We use historical-anthropological insights to contextualize our findings and examine to what extent conjugal practices from the origin country influence the decision to live transnationally or to reunify in Europe. Second, we consider the process of self-selection in deciding to live transnationally. In western studies on LAT relationships the distinction between choice and constraints as explanations of living apart is already common (Levin 2004; Strohm et al. 2009). We extend the notion of LAT by examining whether similar factors play a role when couples live apart together across borders. Additionally, we consider economic theories on migration (e.g., New Economics of Labor Migration (NELM)). Although these theories do not explain reunification, the choice to live transnationally could be explained by considering migration as a household strategy and living transnationally as contributing to the aim of enhancing the household's income. …

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