Researchers have long conjectured that it pays for immigrants to marry into the majority population, because they gain access to their spouse’s network, language and local knowledge. A new study brings interesting corrections to this theory.
It is true that immigrants who have married Norwegian women earn higher wages and are more likely to be in work. But the same applies to immigrants who marry immigrants from countries other than their own, according to the study.
- This may mean that it is not having a Norwegian partner in itself that helps. It is probably more to do with who these men are as individuals, says sociologist Ferdinand A. Mohn, PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography.
The facts don’t lie
Mohn has studied labour force participation and income among all immigrant men in Norway between 1993 and 2010, before and after their marriages. The men came from Scandinavia, the rest of Europe and other parts of the world.
During the five years before their marriage most of the men experience a rising income, which is also normal among ethnic Norwegians. Many men are relatively new to the labour market and perhaps preparing to start a family.
However, during the period after their weddings the groups separate. Among immigrants who have married someone from their own country income stagnates. Among those who have chosen a spouse from Norway or from a different immigrant community, it continues to rise. After ten years, the majority of cross-cultural marriages are enjoying a significantly higher income than those who chose a spouse from the same country as themselves. The chances that they are in employment are also greater.
- Differences in income exist even when comparing men who have migrated from the same region, and also when adjusted for differences in education, age, which county they reside in and how long they have lived in Norway, says Mohn.
Already better integrated?
The data Mohn has analyzed includes tens of thousands of people, but it is based solely on information contained in public registers. That is why these men may have some personal characteristics that Mohn is unaware of.
- I have compared these men over a long period of time. Therefore I know that those who marry across country of origin neither are more employed nor earn substantially more than other men in the period of their lives before marrying. Yet it may be that they have some unrecorded characteristics such that they also perform better in the labour market in the long term. Perhaps they speak Norwegian more often, have Norwegian colleagues or live in neighborhoods where they have many Norwegians around them, Mohn suggests.
He cannot exclude that a man’s spouse sometimes has a finger in the pie.
- Although I have data on unmarried couples cohabitating with children, and have included them in some of the analyses, many have been together or cohabiting for a long time. These men can have received some spousal assistance before marriage even though it is not reflected in the data.
Stand out from the majority
Those who choose a spouse from another background, differ from the majority. Most people, including ethnic Norwegians, choose to marry someone from their own ethnic group. Among immigrants, this applies especially to Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Vietnamese, where nine out of ten people find a spouse from the same country.
On average, three out of four immigrants from non-Western countries including Eastern Europe, select their spouse from the same nationality. Western immigrant men, on the other hand, marry Norwegian women with far greater frequency.
- I think the main reason people marry within the same group is that they want a partner that shares their culture, knowledge, values and background. And it goes both ways. According to the integration barometer of 2015, Norwegians are equally negative to a Muslim child-in-law than Pakistanis are to a Christian child-in-law, says Mohn.
He believes that another reason is accessibility: We encounter, in general, people who are like ourselves, because of segregation of both residence, school, work and leisure activities.
Ferdinand Mohn has not studied why immigrant men who have married within their group fall behind or drop out of the labour market. Other studies have pointed out that generous welfare provisions for families in which one or both spouses do not work is a possible explanation.
Reference: Marital Fault Lines. Spouse Selection and Socioeconomic Assimilation Among the Immigrant Population in Norway. Phd. thesis, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, UiO, 2016, Ferdinand Andreas Mohn