Mixed Marriages. Some Key Questions1

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  • Mixed Marriages. Some Key Questions

    Augustin Barbara*

    By necessity or by choice people travel. They look for work, pursue studies outside their own countries, take part in seminars and go on holiday. Some are rekgees or exiled from their country. Some will eventually become established and even put down roots in foreign soil. All are exposed to the most varied influences. At present, there are more than 4 million foreigners in France (8 per cent of the population). Although this percentage has changed little since the war, the com- position of the foreign population has changed significantly, having been drawn more considerably from the Mediterranean basin than from the European continent.

    Contacts are established between a national majority population and foreign minorities at different levels (professional, territorial, family, civic) and according to their stages in life (Hamad, 1984).* These are the ingredients of what is now commonly called the French melting-pot and becomes concrete in the form of combined differential integration (Noiriel, 1988; Schor 1985). The legal aspect of this is decisive when it comes to harmonizing the letter of the law with social reality (Costa Lascoux, 1986; Rude-Antoine; Whitol de Weenden, 1988). As a form of affective insertion, the intercultural or mixed marriage will provide couples with even deeper roots when they have ~hildren.~ Does this kind of marriage between two strangers explain some of the wider complex- ities of the meeting of two groups?

    Examples that highlight conflictual aspects of such unions are frequently publicized, e.g., cases in 1978 of Dalila Maschino (the Unions between a Muslim women and a Frenchman) and Odile Pierquin (a Frenchwoman and a Chinese). More recently, M. Bellefroid, a French diplomat, was consideredpersona non grata by the Chinese authorities and his fiancke, Li-Shung, was sent to a re-education camp. She has since regained her freedom and is now married in Paris, where she has made her career as a painter.

    * Department of Sociology, University of Nantes, France.


  • In January 1988 there was the well-publicized Selim case. The adoles- cent son of a divorced mixed couple refused to return to his father in Algeria during a visit across the border. Mediation occurred at a time of strained relations between France and Algeria, highlighted by the con- centrated action of a number of mothers separated from their children after divorce. However, a bilateral treaty signed in June 1988 will bring into force certain legal clauses at the moment of d i~orce .~

    Until fairly recently, marriages between Protestants and Catholics were condemned in France. The situation in Ireland today also hinders union between the two important religious communities. Repercussions from the Islamic hdamentalist movement provoke an even greater condem- nation of these marriages, not only at national level but even within the family. Such is the case between the Copts and the Muslims in Egypt and in many nations vis-a-vis the gypsy population.

    The difficult situation for some of the children of divorced mixed couples highlights conflictual aspects of these marriages. Children who have been kidnapped from the parent who had been given legal custody live a dramatic life of separation. Mixed unions pose research questions relevant to those posed by racialism and international migrations, an issue that a UNESCO Congress in Athens in 1981 deemed important enough to warrant further research. Mixed marriages demonstrate the structures of kinship that societies have set up to regulate sexual relations and, at the same time, their biological reproduction in harmony with their overall interests (Levi-Strauss, 1949).

    A marriage involving partners from different groups can provide the framework for research into contacts between different cultures. It offers an interesting insight into phenomena created by immigration and can provide insights into these contacts and different forms of the rejection of cross-breeding (Taguieff, 1988; Nouvelle Revue d Ethno- psychiutrie, 199 1). Hostility towards different groups stems from what one mostly desires to find in ones offspring (Lemaine and Matalon, 1985: 47). The intercultural marriage also provides opportunity to study elements of the dynamics of a couples relationship in the modal marriage.5

    Ofthe 2,749,562 marriages in France between 1968 and 1974,130,550 (or 4.75 per cent) were mixed. Between 1975 and 1981, the percentage increased to 5.80 (2,473,400 and 143,321 respectively). At present, the rate of bi-national marriages exceeds 10 per cent. In fact, if unions follow certain laws of encounter between two individuals, they also follow the laws of encounter between populations, particularly within the context


  • of international migrations. At certain points in history there is a geo- graphical approximation between a part of the female proportion of the age pyramid in France and a part of the unmarried male proportion of the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Maghrebian immigrants6 (Barbara, 1979). These marriages are also more frequent in industrial centres where large numbers of foreign populations, especially labourers, live. This phenomenon can also be observed amongst student marriages in large university cities.

    Specifically speaking, the proportion of French-Maghrebian marriages is continuously growing within the French population. The following figures show increasing numbers of marriages between Maghrebian males and French females, and also between Maghrebian females and French males:

    1975 1984 1989

    Men from MaghrebRrenchwomen 2,562 3,381 6,056 Women from MaghrebRrenchmen 725 1,605 3,062

    Source: M. Tribalat, F. Munoz-Perez: Les mariages dimmigrts avec des Francais. leur tvolution depuis quelques anntes, Institut national des &des dtmographiqies @NED), No. 7, 1991.

    Congr& et Colloques,

    While the marriage of Muslims outside their group poses a number of questions, the above statistics do not specifL whether the marriages were between persons of the same religion who had become French by naturalization, particularly the children of immigrants. However, the figures do show a tendency - empirically observed - for the marriage of this set of Muslim girls7 to be characterized by an element of generation conflict which, according to M. Catani, on the occasion of marriage, finds expression in contradiction between the parents values (anxious about the honour and continuity of the lineage) and those of the children which are focused on the individual (Catani, 1983; Sayad, 1979).

    Together with a number of other factors, this is one aspect of the process of Muslim immigration taking root in France as well as one of the components of the religious and social system, both of French and European politics (Levau, 1986: 601; Kepel, 1987). But to explore fUrther its broader implications would require carefbl definition of the new lay interculture that is actually open towards the Islam (Citron, 1988: 22), a current issue in all European countries (Bastenier and Dassetto, 1984).



    The rate of bi-national (mixed) marriages has increased in both France and the United States during the last three decades (Alba, 1976). According to a sample study of American Catholics, it is gradually leading to an erosion of ethnic frontiers (Alba and Kessler, 1979). Religious identity still exists in these unions, women apparently finding it easier to convert to their husbands religion, particularly in the case of JewisWChristian marriages (Lazerwitz, 197 1). Indeed, there is a strong religious exogamy amongst Protestants, Catholics and Jewish people (Peach, 1980). The question of mixed marriages also arises amongst more recent minorities in the United States. Amongst Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, a greater number of women than men marry outside their group (Kitano et al., 1984). For Japanese in Washington State, mixed marriages increased from one per cent before the war to 50 per cent in 1975 (Murstein, 1986). Attitudes in the United States towards mixed marriages between white and black persons are changing. To the ques- tion, Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between Blacks and Whites?, 43 per cent of respondents to a Gallup poll in 1983 expressed approval, compared with 20 per cent to a poll in 1958. Studies in Canada also confirm the importance of these unions (Barbara, 199 1).

    Mixed marriages were a major preoccupation of demographic politics in some republics of the (former) USSR (Carrere dEncausse, 1978) and of socialist countries such as Czechoslovakia which had received many immigrants (Ukrainians, Greeks, Germans, etc.) after 1945. Endogamy tends to disappear in the second generation (Heroldova, 1983) although, in Albania, Islam still seems to act as a constraint on mixed marriages (Tirtga, 1979). In Hungary, inter-confessional mixed marriages declined between the wars but restrictions, which were especially strong in urban areas, are now less severe (Karady, 1985). The mixed populations of Latin America were often the outcome of forced relations between majority and minority populations (Bastide, 1967). In Germany, mixed marriages have become an object of tension, especially following the warning from the Bishop of Munster, Mgr. Reinhard Lettmann, in November 1986. More than 1,800,000 Muslims, the majority of Turkish origin, live in Germany and, the Prelate declared: As ... most of them will stay, one can no longer speak of isolated cases, and mixed marriages are increasingly frequent ... Mentalities, customs and habits are too different, between the two religions ... The difficult integration of Germans in large Muslim families, the pressure of society from the fathers country of origin, are amongst the distinct cultural traits (Liberution, 5 November 1986). His concerns partly echoed those of the French Episcopate which met in Lourdes at about the same time (November 1986) and was designed, at least in Germany, to put hture

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  • spouses on their guard or even discourage them from mixed marriage. Indeed, Mgr. Lettmann asked his Priests to have some serious talks with those who intend to enter into marriage with a Muslim. Mixed marriages in Germany also exist with other nationalities: 7.3 per cent of the total 364,140 marriages in 1984. During the same year, the number of births from these unions represented 4.83 per cent of total births.8

    The considerable increase in numbers of unions between Swiss persons and foreigners does not apply to partners from neighbouring countries Germany, Austria and Italy, although the French still seem to be in demand. However, there has been an increasing frequency of marriages with foreigners fUrther removed from European culture, e.g., Mauritius, Ile de la Rkunion and Thailand. Marriage agencies tend to exploit this migration vein by promoting the exotic attractions with the aim of marriage.


    There is ahigh percentage of mixed marriages amongst the working class in big cities, especially where foreign populations are large. Geo- graphical proximity is matched by social proximity, such as in the case of two students who meet in the same place. Some foreigners put them- selves on the general marriage market, which in itself is socially layered; indeed, one marriage in two occurs between partners with the same social ba~kground.~ This is the case amongst foreign workers from Mediter- ranean countries who are generally at the bottom of the economic ladder and, in most cases, will marry a French partner at the same bottom rung.

    Observing successive waves of immigration to France - Polish, Belgian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Maghrebian, Yugoslav and Turkish - it is clear that during the initial phase males generally marry French women. In a subsequent phase, family immigration contributes to the formation of situations specific to each nationality, and, depending on its size, increases the possibility of marriage between men and women of the same nationality. The position of the foreigners on the national marriage market will therefore depend on their own social and professional position as well as on their rank within the hierarchy of sympathies and antipathies of French people towards persons of their nationality at that particular time (Girard, 1974). Depending on the period in history, or economic conditions at the time, certain foreign nationalities appear more or less congenial in France. For example, since the end of the Second World War, marriages with Germans have not been generally favoured by the French people, reflecting the historically difficult relations. The same attitude relates to French-Algerian marriages which were rare before and during the Algerian war.



    A more exact analysis of distance between spouses requires M e r examination of the concept mixture. lo This would include not only its cultural character (difference in nationality, religion, culture, skin colour, etc.) but also its social character (difference in background). Moreover, this mixture can be socially imposed upon individuals by certain social groups or professional and social categories that vary according to population composition. In fact, they provide information concerning the social rise or fall of certain groups (artisans, farmers, small shopkeepers), staggered and differentiated according to sex. Merton (1 94 1) identified several logical combinations that come into force in marriage. This author had established criteria on the basis of the situation in America by studying marriage between blacks and whites (Vinsonneau, 1978; Philippe, 1983). Since then, intercultural relations have changed and migrations have increased. Mixed couples, together with other phenom- ena (refugees, foreigners in the process of naturalization) constitute the special cases that end up representing a fair percentage that links the foreign population to the national popu1ation.I Some of these unions combine cultural cfiteria (nationality, religion, colour, language) and social class. Endogamy of culture and class bring together individuals that are alike on all points. On the other hand, marriage can unite individuals of the same culture but with different social backgrounds which will mean that two classes overlap, e.g., a French University teacher marrying a French office clerk or worker. In such a marriage, the husband will accede to a higher social status (social hypergamy); although the situation could also be the inverse (social hypogamy). Both cases are hetero-social marriages (De Singly, 1977).

    Combinations also occur with respect to culture, colour and religion (Collet, 1986), but within an analogous social setting, sometimes to the advantage of the man when his culture is considered higher in the cultural hierarchy (cultural hypergamy). Thus, simultaneously or separ- ately, and quite often alternating, the social and cultural position can be dominant or subordinate, and may even be more pronounced depending on the partners sex.

    These combinations may be even more complex when enriched by criteria of differentiation such as age, previous marital status (single, widowed, divorced, single mother), physical handicaps or age differ- ence between the spouses. The analysis of different combinations emphasizes the distance that separates partners and the common ground that links them. It also enables us to recognize the couples relationship as a structured relationship and as a place of interplay between the partners. Thus, the mixture can be defined under two principal aspects:

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  • cultural difference (intercultural aspect) and the social class difference. Mixture is therefore a complex combination, where, depending on a number of criteria, each ingredient affects the others. Marital mixture is relative. It indicates a digression from the norms ofthe groups that define the rules of entering into marriage.


    Both as a fact of family migration and of marriage, mixed marriages provide insights into relations between the individual and society by revealing a disparity which is ever present in relations between individu- als (disparities of sex, between one person and a group, between groups, countries, cultures, religions, linguistic systems, etc.). Disparity exists in every society that aims at regulating contacts between the similar and the dissimilar (RuffiC, 1976). From incest to exogamy, the structures of kinship impose norms that are respected by the majority of individuals.

    Men and women belong to sociological groups that at certain moments are separated by space and time. This sexual division is a spacekime complex where disparity is maintained to signify that these societies regulate the feeling of love through the institution of marriage.

    Intercultural marriage spoils the matrimonial order that all societies have established. It increases in societies of high geographical and social mobility as international relations develop, when people no longer have the choice of avoiding them. The macro-sociological approach shows us the economic causes that foster and regularize migrations. It accelerates the mobility of some individuals by disturbing the matrimonial homeo- stasis of some societies to the point of sometimes provoking the distancing between spouses. This results in a real estrangement, wher- ever social control is strict, especially for Muslim women for whom marriage with a non-Muslim is forbidden, because in todays Arab world, the woman represents a considerable asset (Delacroix, 1989; Minces, 1990).


    Underlining the attractions of a stranger which lead to the formation of a couple is a question about the components within the choice of the foreign spouse (Philip, 1983). Strangeness and geographical distance draw partners closer together in the realm of imagination in the love encounter. This imagination realm is a free space where illusion and reality are not always distinct.


  • The mixed couple could be set amongst other matrimonial modes as a new model (Lefaucheur, 1982). From this point of view, the French- Maghrebian marriage in France can serve as a typical example, illustrating perfectly the system of creating distance, in action within intercultural marriage. In all countries there are marriages covering considerable distances that could serve as examples to demonstrate a married life that could teach us a great deal about the process which first unites two individuals, and in the long term ensures its perpetuation by having a family. Between the model of mixed marriage over extreme distances and the modal marriage, we can identify diverse types of marriage.

    In the couple relationship, its formation and its daily life, partners invent distinctive modalities for a common project with the help of their marital practice within a territory that is an important element of all couples. The mixed couple in a nuclear family in Europe seems to head a global trend towards privatization of the family by psychologizing family and marital relationships. The difficulty is how to maintain this when the couple's family situation changes and it finds itself in a situation of family and community solidarity, such as in Africa (Kellerhals, 1982).

    All the issues surrounding a child (pregnancy, naming the child, its education and upbringing) will be the test of the relationship, revealing the sociological truth about the family relationship. This is an important question, especially at the level of building up its identity (Lemaine, 1985; Camilleri, 1980). This becomes legal reality at the moment of divorce which will disrupt its legal consistency, with respect to its legal practice as well as the post-parental practice.'2 The ex-spouses, from now on dissociated parents, will construct a new system of either antagonism or accommodation around this.

    The intercultural marriage which they had entered into as a contract of defiance and against their groups, sometimes leaves the partners with a divorce beyond their individual means. At this point, the social element returns as a sociological and legal force, proposing accessories to neutralize the disparity that is growing within the conflict. Groups cannot neglect the child; they want it as a unifying link to minimize the disparity, and it seems that its social destiny is to become the reluctant stake between the parents, the groups and societyI3 (Rude-Antoine, 1986; Fulchirons, 1985; Sugier et al., 1987). This important aspect ofthe conflict calls for serious consideration on how to institutionalize media- tion. It is also important to consider specific pre-marital counselling, look at the intercultural situation in all its dimensions (difference of culture, religion, language, etc.), and underline the importance of changes through events that occur in the course of marital life, particu-


  • larly the consequences when the couple has to face parental choices concerning upbringing, education and culture for the children. We must also look into ways of preventing violence in an intercultural context, in internal family conflicts (marital crisis, divorce) or even in conflicts in general (inter-ethnic, racial, etc.) which directly affect one ofthe spouses or the children from such marriages. We should think more seriously about managing family conflict in general, and include the intercultural dimension in societies affected by migration movements (mixed mar- riages, adopted foreign children, the presence of immigrants adolescent children, etc.) (Clulow, 1990).


    The intercultural couple enables us to understand the modal couple by pre-empting issues such as meeting, relationship, crisis, children, di- vorce and conflict after divorce. It accumulates the variety of disparities uncovered by marital events.

    Distrust of minority populations is well documented (Friedmann, 1965; Bensimon and Lautman, 1977; Memmi, 1955) and the surveillance of individuals even stricter at the moment of that great family event which marriage represents. For it is at the confluence of several lines of order, both in reality and symbolically. The forbidden couple has always, from antiquity till today - in Vichys France, Mussolinis Italy, Apart- heid in South Africa (Poliakov, 1980) - questioned the identity of the group in terms of real elements of transmission (soil, blood, sperm, milk) which according to Franqoise HCritier (1988) have a powerful symbolic value. The reproduction of man is an instrument of the reproduction of the social order. It is part of the symbolic representation of this social order, to the extent that one can say that a system of kinship only exists in mans consciousness and is only an arbitrary system of representations (HCritier, 198 1).

    The social regulation of private relationships is thus very much present and at the same time very much controlled. All kinship is social, because it consists essentially of legal and moral relations sanctioned by society (Durkheim, 1898). The identity of the marital relationship and the intercultural family shows itself differently, depending on the con- text and the degree and nature of integration (Cohen, 1982). Even if it is still not accepted because it has been socially marginalized for so long, the intercultural marriage in industrialized countries has become a factor of social tendency. According to the type of mixture it provides, it loses part of its emblematic nature and approaches the matrimonial modality. It is a real and profound sign, amongst others, of human sedimentation


  • which slowly transforms an instrumental and economic immigration into a population of settlements. As a phase that is already in operation, this marriage anticipates one kind of insertion in the inevitable demo- graphic shifts, e.g., for Europe between the shores of the Mediterranean. However, this will affect all countries because we live in a world of international migrations where the solving of demographic balance in a geopolitical perspective will have to take into account North-South relations.


    1. This article has been translated from the French original. 2. F. Raveau proposes the following definition of ethnicity: It is an awareness

    (conscious or not) of collective belonging to a historic or mythical past, which can be projected into a common goal, whether possible or utopic (in the sense of the imagined becoming the motivating element); quoted by Hamad (1 984).

    3. The use of intercultural marriage seems more appropriate than mixed marriage which, according to canonic law, means the marriage between Catholic and Protestant. At some stage, moreover, we will see that only the binational marriage can be recognized from a statistical point of view.

    4. This treaty was signed on 21 June 1988 in Algiers, by the Minister, Mrs. Georgina Dufoix, and the Algerian Minister of Justice. This conflict is examined by Louis and Muller (1 984).

    5. We are using the concept of modal marriage as borrowed from statistics, the mode being the value of the statistical series which is most frequently seen.

    6. The Maghreb Countries are Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria. 7. According to the law of the Koran, Muslim men can marry a non-Muslim

    woman (provided she belongs to a religion of the Book: Christian or Jewish), but Muslim women must marry a Muslim (this, in a mixed marriage, implies the conversion of the spouse to Islam).

    8. It might be interesting to note that a very structured organization named IAF was founded by German women in 1972. It is very active in current immigration debates in Germany. It alerts the press, organizes demonstra- tions and protest action. Accompanied by their children, these women went to Bonn to demand changes to the law on nationality. At that time, only children of German fathers were given German nationality upon birth. This protest action succeeded for, in 1975, the law was changed. Children from mixed marriages were given dual nationality; since then children have the nationality of each parent, irrespective of whether it is the father or mother who is German or of another nationality. At present, the IAF organizes support counselling in the big German cities where it sets up groups to gather together its 6,000 members.

    9. According to the studies of A. Girard, L. Roussel and F. Heran of NED.

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  • 10. It is becoming increasingly difficult to comprehend this notion of mixture, especially by means of statistics. According to S. Lieberson and M. Waters (1985) 24 ethnic groups can be distinguished in the US Census of 1980. However, multiple ethnic origin becomes an important problem when trying to place marriage between individuals with respect to the concept of mixture.

    11. H. Lebras, quoted in Immigration, le devoir dinsertion, Commissariat gCnCral au plan, November 1987, T.2, p. 164.

    12. At the conclusion of a study on divorce amongst mixed couples in Germany (Population, no. 1, Jan/Feb 1987, pp. 161-166), M. Tribalat writes, Gener- ally speaking, mixed marriages - with the exception of those between Turkish or Yugoslav men and German women - do not appear markedly more fragile than those between autochthons. In cases where the woman is the foreigner, divorce appears to be even less frequent. Finally, because the recent increase in number of white marriages in the Turkish community is a passing phase, the frequency of divorces affecting marriages with Turkish men or women should gradually return to a more normal level.

    13. Children separated from their parents have for some years been the object of misunderstandings about the legitimacy of the right of custody, as it had been decided by the divorce decree. This aspect is presently under consid- eration in legal circles.


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    Vinsonneau, G. 1978

    Whitol de Weenden, C. 1988

    5 84


    Les recherches menCes sur les couples appartenant a deux cultures differentes nous permettent de comprendre le couple traditionnel, surtout lorsquon aborde des questions telles que la relation, la crise, le divorce, et le conflit faisant suite au divorce. Sur les 2,8 millions de mariages contractds en France entre 1968 et 1974,4,8 pour cent Ctaient des mariages mixtes et ffkquemment entre partenaires vivant dans des centres industriels. Durant les premibres annCes de leur sCjour en France, les hommes immigrds Cpousent gCnCralement des femmes franqaises; plus tard, lorsque les proches sont autorisds & les rejoindre, la proportion des mariages entre hommes et femmes de mCme nationalit6 augmente.

    La mixitd apparait comme un phdnombne complexe oh chaque ClCment influe sur les autres en fonction dun certain nombre de criteres. Les mariages entre personnes de culture diffkrente ont tendance a croitre dans les sociCtCs a haut degr6 de mobilitd gdographique et sociale. Dans les cas ou les conjoints ont fait ce choix par dCfi et contre la volontC de leur communautC, cela peut se traduire par un divorce qui dCpasse largement leurs moyens. Lauteur suggbre dexaminer les moyens dCviter la violence dans un contexte interculturel aussi bien que dans les conflits familiaux internes et, plus gCnCralement, propose une reflexion plus approfondie sur la gestion des conflits familiaux.


    La investigacion sobre las parejas de distintas culturas permite com- prender la pareja modal, especialmente cuando se trata de cuestiones tales como las relaciones, las crisis, el divorcio y el conflict0 tras el divorcio. De 10s 2.800.000 matrirnonios celebrados en Francia entre 1968 y 1974, el 4,8 por ciento eran matrirnonios mixtos y a menudo entre colegas residentes en centros industriales. Durante 10s primeros meses de residencia, 10s extranjeros generalmente contraen matrimonio con ffancesas; en etapas ulteriores, cuando se produce la migration familiar, la posibilidad de que entre hombres y mujeres de la misma nacionalidad contraigan matrimonio es mucho mayor.

    Los matrimonios mixtos son considerados como un fen6meno complejo donde, en b c i 6 n del numero de criterios, cada componente afecta a 10s demb. Los matrimonios interculturales son mhs frecuentes en sociedades de alta movilidad geogrhfica y social. Si se efectba como


  • un contrato a titulo de desafio o en contra de sus p p o s , a veces deja a 10s contrayentes con un divorcio h e m de sus recursos individuales. Este articulo propone que se emprenda una investigation para determinar como prevenir la violencia en el context0 intercultural y tambih en 10s conflictos familiares internos. Por cierto, cabe pensar seriamente sobre c6mo hacer fiente a 10s conflictos familiares en general.