Inter-ethnic marriages in Italy – stable or unstable?

Laura Bottazzi, Sarah Grace See and Paolo Manasse research the issue:

Inter-ethnicity is defined as choosing a partner from a different country.  The note starts with this interesting TV drama:

On 19 March 2017, a popular Saturday talk-show called “Let’s talk about it” on Rai1, an Italian public television channel, caused outrage on social media and in the press when it listed a number of reasons why Italian men, according to a “poll,” prefer “Eastern European fiancées” to Italian ones. The stream of sexist remarks included “these mums quickly get back into shape after child-bearing,” “they are always sexy and do not wear baggy gym suits at home,” “they forgive their husband’s cheating,” “they obey their husbands,” “they are perfect housewives,” and so on
As a result, the programme was cancelled, its popular host was fired, and Rai’s chief editor had to face to the public. The episode reflects prejudices on a relatively novel social phenomenon: inter-ethnic marriages.


All such analysis is quite interesting:

We analyse census data that recorded all marriage break-ups in Italy between 2008 at 2010. This represents about 250,000 marriages, lasting between 65 years and a few days. The data show that, contrary to Let’s talk about it, inter-ethnic marriages are likely to break up earlier than co-ethnic ones. Figure 1 shows the average duration of five types of marriages: those where both spouses were born in Italy, inter-ethnic marriages with Italian husband, inter-ethnic marriages with Italian wife, co-ethnic foreign spouses, and inter-ethnic foreign spouses (foreigners who were born in different countries).

The difference between the durations is striking. Marriages between Italians in the sample survived about 15.6 years on average, compared to 9.9 years and 10.5 years for inter-ethnic marriages with Italian men and women, respectively. The shortest-lived marriages on average were inter-ethnic marriages with two foreign spouses.

Figure 1 Average duration of marriages, by couple type (2008-2010)

Does this mean that inter-ethnic marriages per se are much more likely to fail? Not necessarily. In our sample, spouses in inter-ethnic couples had different characteristics relative to the average Italian co-ethnic spouses, and these may have accounted for shorter duration of marriages. First, inter-ethnic marriages were twice as frequent for Italian men than for Italian women. Italian husbands in these marriages were also much older than the average husband and older than their foreign-born wives. They were also significantly less educated. Spouses in inter-ethnic couples were more frequently on their second marriage, and were much less likely to have children than Italian co-ethnic couples. They also had worse employment situations. Interestingly, inter-ethnic couples exhibited signs of lower ex-ante commitment to marriage. Civil, as opposed to religious, ceremonies were significantly more frequent, despite a large majority of these marriages involving spouses from Catholic countries. Moreover, inter-ethnic couples more often chose not to merge their wealth into a shared property arrangement. This arrangement can be seen as a commitment device to the marriage, given than it would create higher litigation costs in case of separation. Yet, even when these differences, region, and time effects are considered, inter-ethnic marriages are found to last less than co-ethnic ones: about 6.5 years.



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