The Impact of Migration on Marital Relationships: A Study of Ethiopian Immigrants in Toronto

By Hyman, Ilene; Guruge, Sepali et al. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Migration on Marital Relationships: A Study of Ethiopian Immigrants in Toronto


Hyman, Ilene, Guruge, Sepali, Mason, Robin, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

Much research has examined the effect of migration upon individual psychological and sociocultural adaptation (Karasz, 2005; Ahmad, et al., 2004; Boyd & Grieco, 2003; Darvishpour, 2002). The former is commonly associated with psychological well-being and satisfaction while the latter refers to the acquisition of culturally appropriate knowledge and skills (Ataca & Berry, 2002). Little research, however, has examined how migration affects marital relationships, or the processes by which couples adapt to their new circumstances. This is a major limitation to migration research as 'for the most part, it is not individuals who migrate, but intact family groups' (Ataca & Berry, 2002 pg. 15). Information on the impact of migration on marital relationships is doubly important given reported high rates of marital conflict, divorce and intimate partner violence (IPV) in newcomer communities (Stein & Dilmaghani, 2002; Krulfeld, 1994; Kulig, 1994; Tang & Oatley 2002; Naidoo and Davis, 1988).

This paper presents data from a research project conducted with married, divorced and separated newcomer Ethiopians in Toronto. The objectives are to document post-migration changes in the lives of newcomer couples and to examine the impact of post-migration changes on marital relationships.

IMMIGRATION TO CANADA

Every year approximately 250,000 immigrants and refugees arrive in Canada. Over the past 40 years, the ethnic composition of Canada's immigrants has shifted dramatically from European to non-European countries of origin (Van Kessel, 1998). Today, sixty percent of recent immigrants come from Asia and the Middle East (Citizenship & Immigration Canada 2003). The pro-portion of non-European immigrants is even more pronounced in urban centres such as Toronto, where, according to the 2001 census, immigrants represented 44% of the population. This proportion is higher than Miami (40%), Los Angeles (31 %) and New York City (24%) (Citizenship & Immigration Canada, 2003). Many of these immigrants are from areas of the world where the cultural norms, beliefs and values differ from those encountered in Canada. Since the mid-1970's, an estimated 1.25 million Ethiopians have fled their homeland to settle in neighbouring countries, such as the Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and Yemen. A relatively smaller proportion immigrated to Europe and North America (McSpadden and Moussa 1993). According to the Ethiopian Association in Toronto (EAT), the Ethiopian population of Toronto numbered 35,000 in 2001 and the community is rapidly growing. Although immigration started in the 1970's, the majority of Ethiopians arrived in Canada during the 1980's and 1990's. Data from the Pathways and Barriers to Health Care for Ethiopians in Toronto, an epidemiological survey of Ethiopians in Toronto, indicated that in 1990-2000, the average length of stay in Canada was 9.2 years; the range being between one and 29 years and highly skewed. As in their home country, the Ethiopian community in Toronto is characterized by tremendous diversity with respect to ethnicity and religion. According to the 1996 census, only 3.7% of Ethiopians had no knowledge of English or French upon arrival (Noh, et al., 2001).

RESEARCH ON POST-MIGRATION CHANGES

Migration has a profound impact on the lives of individuals and couples. For women, the process of immigration often includes the acquisition of a new language and culture as well as changes in both social status and income level. Research on immigrant women has identified several post-migration Stressors including finding employment, lack of professional accreditation, securing affordable and safe housing, discrimination, losses of social status, isolation, culture shock and linguistic, economic and cultural barriers to necessary health and social services (Thurston & Vissandjee, 2005; Meadows, et al., 2001 ; Hyman 2002).

For some women, migration may mean an increase in social mobility, economic independence, and relative autonomy. …

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