Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Post-Migration Survival of Traditional Marriage Patterns: Consanguineous Marriages among Turks and Moroccans in Belgium

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Post-Migration Survival of Traditional Marriage Patterns: Consanguineous Marriages among Turks and Moroccans in Belgium

Article excerpt


An early scientific account on consanguineous marriages comes from George Darwin. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Darwin tried to estimate the incidence of kin marriages in England by comparing the expected common-surname marriages with the actually observed proportion in the population he studied (Bittles, 1994: 562 and Grant, 1996: 6). His interest in consanguinity was not coincidental, as his father, Charles, had married his first cousin Emma Wedgewood. The objective of nineteenth century scientists was not only to examine the prevalence of kin marriages, but more importantly, to gain insight into the arguments considering consanguinity as a cause of degeneracy among offspring. Traditionally, this field of study has been dominated by biologists and social biologists. Demographers joined in the debate since marriage of close biological kin is supposedly associated with higher fertility rates, prenatal losses and postnatal mortality. Due to their high association with other socio-demographic background characteristics and the difficulty of distinguishing between genetic and non-genetic causes in most mortality data for developing countries (Bittles, 1994 and Shami (et al.), 1994), the causal relationship between consanguinity and these demographic indexes has yet to be proven. Furthermore, there is still ongoing discussion as to whether inbreeding over many generations could lead to "the effective removal of deleterious genes from the gene pool, via the selective prereproductive loss of individuals with recessive genetic disorders" (Bittles, 1992: 339).

Another discipline with a long-standing interest in consanguinity is anthropology. Here it has been studied as part of broader kinship and inheritance systems. In migration research, relatively little attention has been paid to the occurrence of consanguineous marriages. Fast growing urbanisation and rural-urban migration in developing countries, however, has invited researchers to look at the survival of traditionally rural matrimonial systems in the new urban context (see Leonetti and Newell-Morris, 1982 and Feldman, 1994). In addition, migration researchers increasingly recognise the importance of networks in explaining the persistence of international migration systems (Boyd, 1989; Kritz, Lim and Zlotnik (eds.), 1992 and Bocker, 1994). Within these networks family ties play an important role. Though a few authors have made brief comments on the evolution of consanguineous marriages in immigrant communities in the past (see Gokalp, 1989, Esveldt (et al.), 1995: 180-183, and Tribalat, 1995: 58-60), it has never been the subject of a separate analysis.

In analysing the evolution of a marriage custom in the post-migration context, two analytical steps are taken. First, a comparison is made between the prevalence of consanguineous marriages in the Turkish and Moroccan communities in Belgium and their respective countries of origin. The second analysis deals with the evolution of consanguineous marriages over the different migrant cohorts and generations. Before presenting these analyses, an account is given of the prevalence of consanguineous marriages world wide, followed by a review of some of the classical explanations given for marriages within the kin group.


Consanguineous marriage is often seen as a correlate of religion. Although its prevalence is generally highest where Islam is the dominant religion, the practice of marrying close kin is not exclusive to Muslims. As can be seen from figure 1, consanguineous marriages are common in regions where Buddhism or Hinduism is the dominant religion. In North Africa and the Middle East, marriages between relatives are also observed among Christians and Jews (Bittles, 1992 and Khlat, 1997: 76). Kin marriages are practised in many societies in SubSaharan Africa (islamicised and non-islamicised) (Lesthaeghe, Kaufmann and Meekers, 1989) as well as among the Han, the largest ethnic group in China (Bittles, 1994: 565). …

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