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Diversity in Partnership Dynamics

Marriage and divorce of immigrants and descendants of immigrants in Sweden
Copyright: Rawpixel Ltd

In how much do immigrants and their descendants in Sweden differ from native Swedes in their marriage formation, divorce and re-marriage? In their paper, Gunnar Andersson, Ognjen Obućina and Kirk Scott demonstrated that there is a big variation among immigrant groups and between migrants and Swedish-born individuals, and that the country of origin matters when explaining this heterogeneity. The authors were able to break down the immigrant population into a fairly large number of country categories, representing a wide variety of migrant backgrounds in terms of the societies and family systems they come from.

The study focuses on female immigrants who were unmarried when they arrived in Sweden, and follows their civil status while living in the country. It also covers Swedish-born women with at least one foreign-born parent. For all unmarried migrants and never-married residents, the authors studied their transition into first marriage. For those who got married while living in Sweden, they studied the transition to first divorce, and for those who subsequently experienced a divorce, the transition to re-marriage.

In general, it was found that differences in partnership dynamics tend to be more pronounced when comparing natives and non-Western immigrants to Sweden than when the comparison was made between immigrants from countries that are culturally more similar to Sweden, or with Swedish-born children of immigrants. Differences between immigrants and children of immigrants are more pronounced in the case of divorce and re-marriage: Descendants of immigrants only display slightly elevated divorce risks and the same re-marriage risks as those of women with two Swedish-born parents. In terms of first marriage, the authors presented a more in-depth analysis that was based on descendants’ parental background. For most groups of second generation European and non-European Anglo-Saxons, differences to natives were negligible. This is most likely related to the processes of assimilation and adaptation.

When examining patterns among immigrants based on age at arrival, clear differences between immigrants who arrived to Sweden as adults and those who arrived during childhood have been found. On average, childhood migrants have relatively high rates for all civil status transitions: first marriage formation, divorce and re-marriage. Immigrants who arrived in Sweden unmarried at adult ages have somewhat reduced marriage formation rates and slightly elevated rates of divorce and re-marriage.

However, these general trends mask a considerable heterogeneity within the group of immigrants based on their country of origin. For example, compared to native Swedes, immigrants from Southern Europe have lower chances of experiencing all three events that were analysed. In turn, immigrants from the Horn of Africa, Northern Africa, the Arab Middle East, Iran and South Asia (1) present elevated levels of first marriage formation, as well as high rates of divorce and re-marriage. These patterns are less straightforward for other immigrant groups. The authors also found that for women from Poland, Central/South America, the Horn of Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Iran, and South-East Asia, differences in marriage formation relative to natives are more pronounced in the descendant generation. More precisely, while first generation immigrant women from these regions do not differ much from native women, the possibility of first marriage formation is substantially lower among the descendants of these immigrants. The latter finding indicates different degrees of difficulty for various minority populations in the marriage market, and in the process of becoming established as a young adult in Sweden.


*This PopDigest has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116 for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties. FamiliesAndSocieties ( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.

(1) Statistics Sweden aggregates countries of origin with number of migrants they consider not large enough to break down for further analyses. Thus only the largest immigration countries stand out as single-country categories.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Daniela Vono de Vilhena