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 International Marriage -

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Tổng số bài gửi : 139
Join date : 28/05/2009
Age : 29
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Bài gửiTiêu đề: International Marriage -   Mon Dec 05, 2011 12:13 am

Herr and Madame, Señor and Mrs

Research at last begins to cast some light on the extent, causes and consequences of cross-border marriages

Nov 12th 2011 | SEOUL
| from the print edition

IF SHAKIRA, a Colombian pop star, marries her boyfriend, the Spanish
national footballer Gerard Piqué, the only unusual things about it would
be that she is even more famous than he is and ten years older.
Otherwise, theirs would be just a celebrity example of one of the
world’s biggest social trends: the rise of international marriages—that
is, involving couples of different nationalities.

A hundred years ago, such alliances were confined to the elite of the
elite. When Randolph Churchill married Jennie Jerome of New York, it
seemed as if they had stepped from the pages of a Henry James novel:
brash, spirited American heiress peps up the declining fortunes of
Britain’s aristocracy. Now, such alliances have become almost
commonplace. To confine examples to politicians only: the French
president Nicolas Sarkozy is married to the Italian-born Carla Bruni and
his prime minister François Fillon has a Welsh wife, Penelope Clarke.
Nelson Mandela is married to Graça Machel (from Mozambique). Denmark’s
new prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is married to a Briton,
Stephen Kinnock. And two leading ladies of Asian countries, Aung San Suu
Kyi of Myanmar and India’s Sonia Gandhi, are both widows from
international marriages. In rich countries alone such unions number at
least 10m.

International marriages matter partly because they reflect—and
result from—globalisation. As people holiday or study abroad, or migrate
to live and work, the visitors meet and marry locals. Their unions are
symbols of cultural integration, and battlefields for conflicts over
integration. Few things help immigrants come to terms with their new
country more than becoming part of a local family. Though the offspring
of such unions may struggle with the barriers of prejudice, at their
best international marriages reduce intolerance directly themselves, and
indirectly through their progeny.

The mists over marriage

So it is all the more disappointing that until recently so little has
been known about these unions. Records are patchy. Some countries do
not collect annual information about the citizenship of couples.
Official figures may say nothing about a marriage if it takes place
abroad (for example in the country of the immigrant spouse).

Defining what counts as international is tricky too. A wedding of a
local man and a foreign-born bride is easy. But the marriage of two
foreigners in a third country sometimes counts and sometimes doesn’t.
Trickiest of all is how to treat the marriage of a second-generation
immigrant who has citizenship of a host country (say, the child of a
Moroccan in France or a Mexican in America). If such a person marries a
native Frenchwoman or an American, that usually does not count as
international, even though it is an alliance across ethnic lines.
Perversely, if he marries a girl from his parents’ country of origin,
that does count as international—but this is not a marriage across an
ethnic divide and may indicate isolation not assimilation.

Belatedly, answers to these questions of scale and definition are
coming, chiefly thanks to the efforts of the International Union for the
Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), a professional association of
demographers, and, especially, of Doo-Sub Kim, a professor at Hanyang
University in Seoul who chairs its panel on cross-border marriages.
Global figures remain sketchy, but marriage patterns in Asia and Europe,
at least, are becoming clearer. Some tentative, often surprising,
conclusions are emerging.

Asia is the part of the world where cross-border marriages have been
rising most consistently. According to Gavin Jones of the National
University of Singapore, 5% of marriages in Japan in 2008-09 included a
foreign spouse (with four times as many foreign wives as husbands).
Before 1980, the share had been below 1%. In South Korea, over 10% of
marriages included a foreigner in 2010, up from 3.5% in 2000. In both
countries, the share of cross-border marriages seems to have stabilised
lately, perhaps as a result of the global economic slowdown. The country
with the biggest share of such unions is Taiwan, where 13% of wives in
2009 were foreigners, about the same level as in 1998, but a big fall
from the peak in 2003, when 28% of all weddings involved a foreign-born
wife. Chinese citizens are not considered foreigners in Taiwan and if
you include marriages in which they are one of the spouses, the
proportion is still higher. International marriages have played a
significant role in modifying the ethnic homogeneity of all these East
Asian countries.

International marriages are common in much of Europe, too.
Calculations by Giampaolo Lanzieri, an Italian demographer, show that in
France the proportion of international marriage rose from about 10% in
1996 to 16% in 2009. In Germany, the rise is a little lower, from 11.3%
in 1990 to 13.7% in 2010. Some smaller countries have much higher
levels. Nearly half the marriages in Switzerland are international ones,
up from a third in 1990. Around one in five marriages in Sweden,
Belgium and Austria involves a foreign partner.

The Mamma Mia factor

The rate seems to be rising fastest in Mediterranean countries: in
Spain and Italy, cross-border marriages accounted for less than 5% of
the total in 1995; by 2009, the share had reached 14% in Italy and 22%
in Spain. Cyprus is a special case: no less than three-quarters of
marriages there in 2009 were international (up from half in 1995). But
that is because Venus’s birthplace has a thriving wedding-and-honeymoon
market. Many couples from abroad wed there.

Such figures are based on wedding records. Another way of getting at
the trends is census micro-data (ie, from detailed samples collected as
part of the census). These have a wider coverage, are extremely precise,
and go back decades, which is helpful. On the other hand, many
countries do not provide them. Researchers from the Centre for
Demographic Studies (Barcelona) and the Minnesota Population Centre have
for the first time trawled through the censuses of more than 50
countries in every continent for people aged 25-39. In general, they
find that cross-border marriages are rising in most places, but the most
significant fact is the big difference between levels in rich and
developing ones.

In most developing countries, the share of men married to foreign
women was less than 2% in 2000 (0.7% in Ghana and Bolivia; 0.2% in
Colombia and the Philippines; 3.3% in South Africa). In contrast, three
rich countries—America, Britain and France—account for half the total in
the sample. America alone has a third. Because it is so large, though,
the share of international marriage remains low: only 4.6% of Americans
were married to a foreigner in 2010, up from 2.4% in 1970.

Albert Esteve of the Autonomous University of Barcelona reckons that
the total number of cross-border marriages among 25-39-year-olds in his
sample was about 12m in 2000. The sample excludes several countries with
large numbers of such unions—Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Canada—so the
grand total is certainly higher, probably 15m, possibly more. Compared
with the very roughly 500m marriages within that age group round the
world, 15m may not seem like much. But it is more than it used to be
and, in some countries—senders and recipients of foreign spouses
alike—the growth in cross-border marriages is having a significant
social impact.

Everywhere, cross-border marriage rises with migration, but more
slowly. According to Mr Esteve’s figures, the correlation is roughly one
international marriage for every two new migrants. That would seem to
mean that half of new migrants are marrying into their host society and
the other half (presumably) into their own communities. So a surge in
immigration usually leads to only a more modest rise in cross-border
marriages; the process is slower and more complex.

Research into four European countries by Suzana Koelet of the Free
University of Brussels and others confirms that international marriages
have not risen as much as one might have expected in Europe. On her
calculations, rates of marriages with a person from another European
Union country have been flat in Belgium and the Netherlands since 2000
and shown only a modest rise in Spain. Marriage rates between Swiss and
EU citizens have also not budged. True, marriages with foreigners have
increased sharply in Spain—but that was because of a spurt of marriages
with non-EU citizens: Spain had huge immigration flows from Latin
America during the 1990s and 2000s. By implication, the closer
integration that the EU is supposed to be bringing about seems to be
having no discernible impact on the marriage choices of Dutch, Belgian
and Spanish citizens.

Why not? For part of the explanation, Ms Koelet points to the
intriguing marriage patterns of the Swiss. The country has one of the
highest rates of international marriage in the world (surpassed only by
Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Cyprus). But the Swiss “marry out” in
particular ways. The German-speaking Swiss marry largely neighbouring
Germans; the Francophone Swiss marry the French; Italian-speakers marry
Italians. It is the same with Belgians: Flemish-speakers tend to marry
Dutch partners, Walloons marry French people. Language, it appears,
remains a persistent barrier to international marriage in Europe and the
spread of English as a second language does not seem to have changed

Asia is different. In Europe and America, marriage tends to follow
migration. In Asia, people marry to migrate. Marriages in South Korea,
for example, are often arranged by a broker in an unromantic process
that takes two or three days and costs the Korean groom $20,000-30,000.
Similarly, Taiwan has many marriages between its male citizens and
Vietnamese women. The growth began when Taiwanese companies started
investing in Vietnam.

Local men in such countries, Mr Jones argues from Singapore, look for
foreign brides for two reasons. First because of the so-called
“marriage strike” affecting some East Asian societies. In the richer
countries of East and South-East Asia, like Japan, Singapore, South
Korea and Taiwan, a third or more of local women are not marrying; and
those who do wed late, at 31 or 32. This is causing some men to look to
foreign shores for potential mates. The other reason—specific to a few
Asian societies—is because a combination of traditional preference for
sons and the availability of sex-selective abortion skewed the sex ratio
at birth 20 years ago, leaving too few native-born women now. South
Korea is an example. In 1990, it had 117 boys born for every 100 girls.
Men are looking abroad to plug the gap in their local marriage market.

Hard noses, not soft hearts

For their part, the young women, often from poor areas of China and
Vietnam, are looking for economic opportunities. Marriage with a man
from a richer country is seen as a means of advancement and a way of
helping their families at home. In Asia, it seems, cross-border unions
are products of distorted local marriage markets; in Europe, they are
results of gaps in labour markets that encourage migration. In both
parts of the world, diasporas play a role: as immigrants settle down
they encourage friends and family from back home to follow in their

Many Asian men also seem to be looking abroad for wives in the hope
that immigrant women will bear them more children. This indeed happens
in Europe and America: the fertility rate of new immigrants is higher
than average, though it reverts to the local mean within a few years. So
at first, migration adds to the birth rate. Strangely, this higher
initial fertility does not seem to happen in Asia, or at least not in
South Korea. According to Kwang-hee Jun of Chungnam National University,
non-naturalised immigrant women have on average just 1.08 children—even
fewer than native Koreans, whose average is 1.79.

This finding was a shock and a puzzle. Why are immigrants in South
Korea behaving so differently from those in Europe and America? One
explanation may be that the age gaps between husbands and much younger
wives discourage large families. Another is that in the past decade,
about 60% of foreign brides have come from China, where the fertility
rate is also low, especially among Chinese of Korean ethnicity. Jungho
Kim of Ajou University also suggests poverty. Both spouses will usually
work and may be unable to afford to bring up a child in a society where
half of the cost of pre-school education comes from the household
budget. Evidence for this comes from families with a Vietnamese-born
bride: when they do have children, says Danièle Bélanger of the
University of Western Ontario, they send some of them back to be raised
for a few years by grandparents in Vietnam, where schooling is cheaper.

Victims or opportunists?

Marriage between girls from poor countries and older men from rich
ones are controversial. As Sang-lim Lee of the International
Organisation of Migration centre in Goyang says, when men pay the
brides’ family “they tend to think they have bought a good. If it has a
defect, they think they can send it back.”

It is certainly true that the men tend to be older, often much older.
Doo-Sub Kim finds that Korean husbands are on average 17 years older
than their Vietnamese-born brides. They usually have around three years’
more education as well. One fifth of Korean husbands have been married
before. All this is very different from the typical pattern in native
Korean marriages.

It is also true that some young women are victims of cruelty,
neglect, physical abuse and trafficking. Women in strange countries are
almost always vulnerable. A Vietnamese interpreter married to a Korean
man complains that “if I run away here, my parents will be embarrassed
in Vietnam.” That, she explains, would leave her unable to return home,
but with “no place to go here”. The media in Vietnam tend to portray
migrant brides either as victims of trafficking or people driven by
desperate poverty to migrate. Children of international marriages in
South Korea have more health problems than average. In Taiwan, they do
less well at school—something that occurs in European countries, too.

Yet this is not the dominant pattern, still less the sole one.
International marriages often seem to work for the couple involved—at
least if the longevity of their union is any guide. And they seem to
have social benefits, as well as costs, for both receiving and sending

Though the gap in background, age and education between spouses in
international marriages is greater than in those between compatriots, it
does not seem to affect these unions’ durability. Doo-Sub Kim plotted
the time that cross-border marriages have lasted in South Korea against
the couples’ ages and educational backgrounds. Amazingly, the bigger the
difference, the longer the marriage. It is hard to know why this should
be. Maybe those who marry foreigners invest more in their marriages. Or
maybe younger, poorer wives find it harder to leave.

Vietnamese girls are seen in much of Asia as the paradigm of the
submissive foreign bride. But a study of their role in Taiwan by Ms
Bélanger shows that many are married to men whose companies trade with
Vietnam—and they are vital to the companies’ future. As one man told
her, revealingly: “I have six trusted subordinates. One is my wife. One
is her younger sister. They will not betray me.” Remittances to their
families help keep the practice alive in Vietnam, even though many young
men there dislike it and say they have been driven out of their
villages by the shortage of brides and forced to migrate to Hanoi and Ho
Chi Minh City. Similarly, marriage abroad is seen as so desirable by
the Punjabi diaspora that the press in Punjab is full of advertisements
offering to arrange marriages abroad.

Not all international marriages in Asia are those of poor brides in
rich lands. In a “reverse migration” Japanese women from rich Tokyo have
married into poor peasant families in South-East Asia—especially in
Bali and Thailand—and settled down to live a more “authentic” rural
life, perhaps as a way of escaping the strictness of Japanese family
life. That same impulse may well be behind the surprising growth in the
numbers of Japanese women married to Africans in Japan (probably as many
as 3,300 in all). As one wife told Djamila Schans of Maastricht
University, “I had doubts marrying a foreigner but he waited for me at
the station every day. Sometimes even with flowers! A Japanese man would
never do such a thing.”

Most demographic trends are irresistible forces. It is rare that
government policy can make a big difference. But international marriage
is sensitive to public policy. In the mid-2000s, Taiwan’s government,
for example, took alarm at the number of foreign brides coming into the
country. It did not slam the gates but started to wrap the marriage
process in licensing and permits, insisting on better treatment of
immigrant women. This reduced the number of foreign brides by more than
half between 2003 and 2010. Malaysia also maintains an array of secular
and religious permits which foreigners must get not only for marriage,
but also for residence and work. It seems effective: less than 2% of all
Malaysian marriages involve a foreigner, against almost 40% in
neighbouring Singapore.

Governments impose restrictions in the belief that cross-border
marriages can destabilise their societies. Sometimes, their fears are
understandable. In Taiwan, the share of international marriages doubled
in five years. But such rapid change is highly unusual. By and large,
marriage between people of different nationalities has grown more slowly
than immigration. In the past few years, the increase in marriage has
slowed further, probably reflecting global economic problems.

International marriages are often attacked as exploitative, because
they typically take place between an older richer man and a younger,
less well-educated woman from a poor country. Terrible examples of abuse
do exist. Yet the evidence suggests that international marriages often
last longer than average and that migrant wives come to play important
roles in their husband’s host country.

Marriage remains, for the most part, an institution that promotes
economic improvement and personal happiness. It also tends to boost
social assimilation—the main exception being when a second-generation
immigrant weds a girl from a village his parents had left long before.
Over the next few years, international marriage is likely to continue
its quiet upward crawl. Governments should protect its victims—but not
prevent the process.

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