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Mixed couples in contemporary France. Marriage, acquisition of French natio­nality and divorce (Population, 3, 1997) - article ; n°2 ; vol.10, pg 385-416

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34 pages
Population - Année 1998 - Volume 10 - Numéro 2 - Pages 385-416
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). - Mixed couples in contemporary France. Marriage, acquisition of French nationality and divorce Mixed nationality marriages tend to involve people of above average social class. This is true of French partners in relation to the French population in general and of foreign partners in relation to their compatriots resident in France. Among the latter, social level is higher still in the mixed couples in which the foreign partner takes French nationality after marriage. The propensity to take French nationality is found to vary according to the national origin and the gender of the foreign partner. Occurring in a rapidly changing legal and cultural context, this interaction of the variables that are specific to the situation of mixed nationality marriages - the national origin and gender of the foreign partner - produces a variety of effects, notably a propensity to divorce that varies greatly according to the gender of the foreign partner.
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). - Les couples mixtes dans la France contemporaine. Mariage, acquisition de la nationalité française et divorce La conclusion de mariages bi-nationaux a tendance à concerner des individus d'un niveau social supérieur à la moyenne, aussi bien en ce qui concerne les conjoints français par rapport à l'ensemble de la population française que les conjoints étrangers par rapport à leurs compatriotes en France. Parmi ceux-ci, les couples mixtes dont les conjoints étrangers acquièrent la nationalité française à la suite de leur mariage présentent un niveau social encore plus élevé et une tendance à l'acquisition très différente selon la nationalité d'origine et le sexe du conjoint étranger. Cette importance croisée des variables spécifiques à la situation de mixité - l'origine nationale et le sexe du conjoint étranger - se traduit, dans un contexte législatif et culturel en pleine évolution, de multiples façons, notamment par une tendance à la divortialité très différente selon le sexe du conjoint étranger.
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). -Las parejas mixtas en la Francia contemporánea. Matrimonio, adquisición de la nacionalidad francesa y divorcio Los matrimonios bi-nacionales tienden a producirse entre individuos de un nivel social superior a la media; esta caracteristica se aplica tanto a los cónyuges franceses en rela- ción al total de la población francesa como a los cónyuges extranjeros en relación a sus compatriotas en Francia. Entre parejas mixtas, los cónyuges extranjeros que adquieren la nacionalidad francesa después del matrimonio presentan un nivel social todavía más eleva- do y una tendencia a la adquisición muy variable según la nacionalidad de origen y el sexo del cónyuge extranjero. En un contexto legislativo y cultural cambiante, estas dos variables (origen, sexo) in- fluyen asimismo en otros aspectos, por ejemplo en la tendencia a una divorcialidad muy variable según el sexo del cónyuge.
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Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
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G. Neyrand
M. M'sili
Mixed couples in contemporary France. Marriage, acquisition of
French natio­nality and divorce (Population, 3, 1997)
In: Population, 10e année, n°2, 1998 pp. 385­416.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Neyrand G., M'sili M. Mixed couples in contemporary France. Marriage, acquisition of French natio­nality and divorce
(Population, 3, 1997). In: Population, 10e année, n°2, 1998 pp. 385­416.
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/pop_0032-4663_1998_hos_10_2_6834Abstract
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). ­ Mixed couples in contemporary France. Marriage, acquisition of
French nationality and divorce Mixed nationality marriages tend to involve people of above average
social class. This is true of French partners in relation to the French population in general and of foreign
partners in relation to their compatriots resident in France. Among the latter, social level is higher still in
the mixed couples in which the foreign partner takes French nationality after marriage. The propensity to
take French nationality is found to vary according to the national origin and the gender of the foreign
partner. Occurring in a rapidly changing legal and cultural context, this interaction of the variables that
are specific to the situation of mixed nationality marriages ­ the national origin and gender of the foreign
partner ­ produces a variety of effects, notably a propensity to divorce that varies greatly according to
the gender of the foreign partner.
Résumé
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). ­ Les couples mixtes dans la France contemporaine. Mariage,
acquisition de la nationalité française et divorce La conclusion de mariages bi­nationaux a tendance à
concerner des individus d'un niveau social supérieur à la moyenne, aussi bien en ce qui concerne les
conjoints français par rapport à l'ensemble de la population française que les conjoints étrangers par
rapport à leurs compatriotes en France. Parmi ceux­ci, les couples mixtes dont les conjoints
acquièrent la nationalité française à la suite de leur mariage présentent un niveau social encore plus
élevé et une tendance à l'acquisition très différente selon la nationalité d'origine et le sexe du conjoint
étranger. Cette importance croisée des variables spécifiques à la situation de mixité ­ l'origine nationale
et le sexe du conjoint étranger ­ se traduit, dans un contexte législatif et culturel en pleine évolution, de
multiples façons, notamment par une tendance à la divortialité très différente selon le sexe du conjoint
étranger.
Resumen
Neyrand (Gérard), M'Sili (Marine). ­Las parejas mixtas en la Francia contemporánea. Matrimonio,
adquisición de la nacionalidad francesa y divorcio Los matrimonios bi­nacionales tienden a producirse
entre individuos de un nivel social superior a la media; esta caracteristica se aplica tanto a los cónyuges
franceses en rela­ ción al total de la población francesa como a los cónyuges extranjeros en relación a
sus compatriotas en Francia. Entre parejas mixtas, los cónyuges extranjeros que adquieren la
nacionalidad francesa después del matrimonio presentan un nivel social todavía más eleva­ do y una
tendencia a la adquisición muy variable según la nacionalidad de origen y el sexo del cónyuge
extranjero. En un contexto legislativo y cultural cambiante, estas dos variables (origen, sexo) in­ fluyen
asimismo en otros aspectos, por ejemplo en la tendencia a una divorcialidad muy variable según el
sexo del cónyuge.MIXED COUPLES
IN CONTEMPORARY FRANCE
Marriage, acquisition of French
nationality and divorce
generally Marriage taken to between be a significant nationals indicator and foreign of the nationals latter 's sois
cial integration in their host country. In fact, in addition to
the obvious social significance of such 'mixing ', the foreign
partner usually has the right to acquire his or her spouse's
nationality, which means no longer being counted among the
foreign nationals (nor will their children be). In France, Gérard
Neyrand* and Marine M'Sili* have studied a sample of ap
plications for naturalization through marriage with a French
citizen. These dossiers provide information on the applicant,
the spouse and the origins of both, which throws light on how
'mixed' the union actually is. Divorce rates among these
couples refute the hypothesis that ' unconsummated marriages'
are frequently contracted with the sole intention of acquiring
the French nationality.
The study of 'mixed' marriages0 }, as they are termed, was for a long
time limited to the qualitative perspective, given the deficiency of statistical
materials but also the fact that most researchers were interested by specific
national origins or by information of a general nature. It was only when
the INED-INSEE survey on geographical mobility and social insertion (Mob
ilité géographique et insertion sociale: MGIS) was conducted in 1992
by Michèle Tribalat (1995a) that the study of mixed couples could be ap
proached globally. The constraints of the survey, which had a much broader
scope, explain some restrictions, and in particular the fact that not all na
tional origins are encompassed'2». No statistical study of mixed couples in
France has previously been published, not least because the foreign national
partner does not generally remain foreign: most eventually become French
* Centre interdisciplinaire méditerranéen d'études et de recherches en sciences sociales
(CIMERSS).
(l) That is, between partners with different origins: nationality, community, religion...
depending on the approach. In the present study, the term will refer to marriages contracted
between a French national and a foreign national.
{2) Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, South-Eastern Asia (Cambodia, Laos,
Vietnam) and Black Africa, which together account for roughly 60% of immigrants, are con
sidered.
Population: An English Selection, 10(2), 1998, 385-416 386 G. NEYRAND, M. M'SILI
citizens and so are no longer counted by INSEE among the foreign na
tionals.
This problem led the Department of Population and Migration to com
mission us to inquire into mixed marriages in France, their position relative
to nuptiality in general and their outcome. Between 1990 and 1995 we
conducted a series of studies (see boxed text p. 390). The first (in Lyons
and Marseilles) was designed to evaluate the weight and characteristics
of mixed marriages relative to all marriages. We next explored the char
acteristics of mixed couples from the wealth of information recorded in
the dossiers of applicants for naturalization through marriage(3). Finally, we
studied divorce patterns among mixed couples, compared to the general
population.
In the present article, we describe these operations and discuss our
findings, the paths they have opened up and others that still need to be
cleared.
I. - Mixed couples: problems of definition and observation
The different approaches During the last decade, much attention
has been focused on mixed couples, par
ticularly by sociologists: for instance, the classic work by Augustin Barbara
(1985) or Jocelyne Streiff-Fenart's study of Maghrebis (North Africans)
(1989). These pioneering works have been followed by other surveys, either
completed or ongoing. They have in common their largely qualitative ap-
proach(4), the mixed couples being, inter alia, interviewed on why they
chose a spouse belonging to a different community from their own. At the
crossroads of family and immigration sociology, these studies address the
difficulties of dealing with a combination of cultures.
Demographers approach mixed marriages from a totally different angle:
as a phenomenon to be measured in relation to French nuptiality in general.
Now, nuptiality is no doubt the aspect of French society that has changed
most during the last twenty years (Leridon, 1991). In parallel, with the
economic and political upheavals marking the close of this century, the
'issue' of immigrants has come to centre stage. Immigration and nuptiality
meet in what some people interpret as a patent sign of successful integra
tion: the mixed marriage. Measuring the phenomenon then becomes a key
<3) On the different naturalization procedures and the French melting-pot, see M. Tri-
balat, Population: An English Selection, 4, 1992, 55-74.
(4) Some sociologists have combined a qualitative approach with statistical evaluation.
J. Streiff-Fenart and B. Tabuteau, for instance, estimate the frequency of different situations
among North-African-French couples on the basis of marriage records in Marseilles between
1980 and the first quarter of 1984; they examined all marriages in which at least one spouse
was of North African nationality or origin (identified by surname and first name), that is, a
total of 953 marriages and 1,509 North Africans (Streiff-Fenart and Tabuteau, 1988). MIXED COUPLES IN CONTEMPORARY FRANCE 387
for apprehending the process of assimilation of foreign populations in
France.
In fact, it seems normal that sociologists and demographers should
be at odds on this. For the former, the mixed couple is above all a labor
atory for observing intercultural aspects in everyday life, and also for st
udying how the seemingly inevitable marital conflicts are handled. For the
latter, the number of mixed couples measures the degree of integration (or
assimilation), and successful integration requires that they become more
frequent cohortwise. In this respect, the attention paid in the MGIS to im
migrants' marriage histories is remarkable. However, this opposition be
tween qualitative sociology and demography is a caricature insofar as the
opinions of researchers in the different disciplines may evolve and overlap.
What finally separates the two fields is perhaps rather the question of the
definition of 'mixed': schematically, it can be said to be 'cultural' for so
ciologists and 'legal' for demographers.
Polysemy of the term What is meant by the term 'mixed couple'?
'mixed couple' The question is a complex one and the only
consensus is that there can be no global defi
nition (Varro, Streiff-Fenart and Philippe, 1994). To approach the semantics
of the term, it is necessary to start from the most common perception of
what a 'mixed couple' is: a couple in which the two partners are from
different cultures. The archetype is the black-and-white union, as though
the most acute cultural differences were the most visible ones; the mixed
couple thus has its traditional image, the 'domino' (Philippe, 1983).
In parallel with this cultural definition, there is a legal definition. A
mixed marriage is between a man and woman having different nationalities:
a 'mixed nationality marriage'. This conception is reductive, however, in
that, say, a marriage between a man of Algerian origin who has acquired
the French nationality, and an Algerian national woman, will count as a
mixed marriage, although the two partners are from the same national comm
unity. This potential endogamy of mixed nationality marriages explains
in part the preference for the intercultural approach, and at the same time
shows the kind of problems encountered in quantitative studies. Indeed,
marriage statistics do not take cultural origins into account and can be
broken down only by nationality, an objective variable. On this, Michèle
Tribalat speaks of the 'French taboo' regarding origins, which is a great
hindrance in the present case.
Whether we consider marriages between partners of different nationa
lity or different culture, our perception of the 'mixed couples' will be
truncated. In a number of studies, ad hoc methods have been devised to
get round the restrictions set by the available statistics. They then refer
to alternative definitions of 'mixed', so close is the interdependence be
tween sources and problematics. G. NEYRAND, M. M' SILI 388
The thorny problem The issue of mixed cultures cannot, therefore,
of sources be satisfactorily explored when mixed
riages are defined in terms of nationality: it
addresses partners from different cultural backgrounds, and nationality is
but one aspect of the difference. In this perspective, the contribution of
statistics of marriages between French and foreign nationals is limited.
The numbers of such marriages are known with accuracy, since the
INSEE statistics take spouses' nationality into account. But marriage rec
ords provide little information, in particular on the social characteristics
of husband and wife, and nothing is known of their actual origins. It is
true that the demographer can supplement to some extent the run-of-the-
mill statistics, since the vast MGIS survey has gathered data on nationality
and also national origins of respondents(5) (Tribalat, 1995a). Yet it is very
difficult to have a global view of the situation. The survey was such a
large-scale one and considered so many different dimensions that it was
necessary to restrict it to part of the immigrant population (roughly 60%),
and the questionnaire was more limited than it would have been in an ad
hoc survey of mixed couples. It has, however, a considerable advantage:
that it covers the situation of immigrants and not just those who remain
foreign nationals.
The different approaches to the study of mixed marriages are thus
complementary. They make it possible to confirm some findings by cros
schecking and to offer a more complete description of the phenomenon.
Among the mixed couples, a sub-population is of particular interest and
is also more accessible for research: those in which the foreign national
spouse has become a naturalized French citizen.
Mixed marriages and The study of foreign nationals who have ac-
French citizenship quired the French nationality through marriage
occupies a special position, on several counts.
First, the debates relative to the permanent settlement of foreigners
in France are increasingly fuelled by demographic considerations, and pose
the question of integration. In this context, the case of foreign nationals
who marry a Frenchman or woman and thereby apply for naturalization
(a procedure which is voluntary, not automatic) is of considerable interest.
In the assimilationist tradition which for a long time characterized
French society, mixed marriage was perceived as the consecration or cu
lmination of the process whereby an immigrant 'melted in' (Dupâquier and
Vejarano, 1986). The growing number of marriages between French and
foreign nationals seemed to point clearly to the success of the process,
namely, the effacing of differences. And this success was expressed per
fectly by the correlation between the foreign community's time of presence
(5) The MGIS permits the construction of immigrants' marriage histories from two
samples, one of immigrants and the other of young people of foreign origin born in France. COUPLES IN CONTEMPORARY FRANCE 389 MIXED
in France and its propensity to inter-marry (Tribalat, 1991; Bernstein and
Milza, 1990; Noiriel, 1988). But immigration from the Maghreb threw this
pattern of assimilation into question: until recently, the population of this
extract has shown little enthusiasm for marrying Frenchmen or women (Tri
balat and Muftoz-Pérez, 1991), a deviation which was first apprehended
in terms of nationality.
There is another reason for focusing on the sub-population of French/natur
alized couples. It is known how important social characteristics are in
couple formation'6', and this information is difficult to obtain in the case
of mixed marriages in general. However, when the marriage is followed
by an application for naturalization, the dossier compiled by the authorities
is rich in information. Processed by the Sub-Department of Naturalizations,
these dossiers contain a multitude of documents required by this service
and provide all the data needed for any classic analysis of nuptiality, in
particular age and occupation of applicant and spouse. In addition, they
permit investigation of a number of variables specific to mixed couples:
gender and nationality of the foreign spouse, origin of the French spouse,
time between marriage and acquisition of the French nationality.
We exploited a sample of these dossiers for the years 1980, 1986
and 1991 (in all, 750 dossiers).
Motivations of the applicants
The foreign spouse can have several motives for applying for the
French nationality. First, and most widespread, is its symbolic aspect
(Schnapper, 1991): French citizenship conveys a system of representations,
of imaginary implications and latent presuppositions. In this respect, the
historical relations between France and the country of origin are of primary
importance, as the Algerian example illustrates (Bekkar, 1997). In the
words of Michèle Tribalat (1995b):
« Only history can explain why immigrants from Algeria are so hostile of" to the idea the French nationality, despite their degree of acquiring
cultural integration ».
The second kind of motive is much more concrete, and it is often
interwoven with the former. French citizenship gives its residents a number
of material or practical advantages, which may encourage the foreign
spouse to take the necessary steps to acquire it. When questioned on their
motives, applicants often mention such concrete advantages, thus in a way
updating a more abstract position with regard to the symbolic significance
of acquiring citizenship.
There may be an instigating factor of essentially practical order: gain
ing access to a job, a benefit or allowance... When the motivation to become
French is reduced in this way, and the act is diverted from its original
(6' A considerably body of literature addressesthis issue, of which: Alain Girard (1974);
Claude Thélot (1982); Michel Bozon and François Héran (1987, 1988), François de Singly
(1987); Michel Bozon (1991); J. Kellerhals et al. (1982) and Jean-Claude Kaufmann (1993). 390 G. NEYRAND, M. M'SILI
The surveys on mixed marriages conducted by the authors
— « The diversity of exogamous marriage practices. An approach to
mixed marriages between French and foreign national partners », Gérard Ney-
rand et al, CIMERSS-INSEE, 1990.
The study investigates the diversity of exogamous marriages in the prin
cipal immigrant communities in Lyons and Marseilles (two poles of attrac
tion). Two source materials were used in turn: first, INSEE's marriage files;
second, the corresponding birth records to check the national origin of hus
band and wife. Patronymic and place of birth confirmed the type of marriage.
A total of 16,506 weddings were recorded during 1986, 1987 and 1988. Of
these, 84.6% were between two French nationals, 11.1% were mixed marria
ges and 4.3% two foreign nationals. In the second part of the
study, we explore the social characteristics of mixed couples only.
— « Naturalization through mixed marriage. Social profiles and spe
cific situations of the partners », Gérard Neyrand and Marine M'Sili, CI-
MERSS, 1993.
We exploited a total of 750 dossiers compiled for foreign nationals
applying for naturalization through marriage with a French citizen. The re
sulting decisions concern three separate years: 1980, 1986 and 1991. This is
an in-depth study of the social and demographic characteristics of mixed
couples (gender, national origin, age at marriage, socio-occupational category
etc. of each spouse). It was published by L'Harmattan in 1995 under the title:
Mariages mixtes et nationalité française. Les Français par marriage et leurs
conjoints.
— « Divorce in mixed marriages. Comparison between mixed couples
naturalized through marriage and French couples in general. », Gérard Ney
rand and Marine M'Sili, CIMERSS, 1995.
This survey was conducted in two stages. First, we drew a random
sample of 1,000 'statements of French citizenship' (a form of naturalization
decision, see fn. 3) made subsequent to a mixed marriage contracted in 1975,
1982 or 1990, and within two years of the wedding. Second, the corresponding
marriage records were consulted to see whether a divorce was noted in the
margin. This is the first study to evaluate divorce trends among mixed couples
in which the foreign national spouse has become a French citizen, providing
information on their social characteristics. It was published by L'Harmattan
in 1996 under the title: Les couples mixtes et le divorce. Le poids de la dif
férence.
goal to satisfy merely practical considerations, the law is said to be in-
strumentalized. In the case studied here, such instrumentalization can take
the form of what has been termed (inaccurately) 'unconsummated marriage'.
This phenomenon is quantitatively marginal, but has focused the media
floodlights on the naturalization procedure.
Nonetheless, since 1973, when the law on naturalization by marriage
which was in force throughout our study period was implemented, the numb
er of spouses acquiring the French nationality has risen each year, cu
lminating at around 16,000 in 1988. At that time, almost 70% of foreign
spouses launched the procedure, some after several decades of marriage. MIXED COUPLES IN CONTEMPORARY FRANCE 39 1
This suggests that many experience a slow change in their life strategy,
sometimes after the idea of 'going back home' has been definitively aban
doned (Hammouche, 1994; Sayad, 1991).
II. - The preliminary findings
Mixed couples, French couples: The statistics relative to mixed mar-
some statistics riages and naturalization through
marriage have several dimensions.
First, the annual trends in marriages contracted between a French national and
a foreign national (which we shorten here to 'mixed marriages') throughout
the 20th century. From the First World War to the 1980s, the long-term
trends were stable, apart from the war periods which unbalanced the mar
riage market or the economic crisis in the 1930s, when many foreigners
went back home. The number of mixed marriages recorded per year was
between 15,000 and 20,000 (Mufioz-Pérez and Tribalat, 1984). Second, since
mixed marriages are an element of the French marriage market, their weight
relative to all marriages. Throughout the period covered by the above authors,
they represent less than 3% of marriages with a French groom and less
than 5% with a French bride.
Now let us take a closer look at the last two decades, during which
there have been no new laws that might obscure the pattern. Over this
period, the number of mixed marriages has risen (Figure 1), while mar
riages between French nationals have fallen. The remarkable stability ob
served in the mixed marriage trend from 1973 to the mid-1980s then
suddenly gives way to an unprecedentedly sharp increase. Their share
among all marriages celebrated in France grows slowly and steadily from
1973 (5%) to 1982 (6.7%), then more rapidly but more irregularly in 1985-
88 (Figure 2). From 1988 to 1991, the number soars to a level of 33,000
mixed marriages in 1991, and the proportion swells to 11.8%.
Becoming French through marriage
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of ordinances were issued
relative to mixed marriages, defining what measures were to be taken when
it was the husband/wife who was French. The civil code of 1804 (art. 12
and 19) stipulated that both spouses would have the same nationality, that
of the husband: if he were French, his wife would become French, if he
were not, his wife would lose her French nationality and acquire that of
her husband. The law of 1889, motivated by military considerations, modif
ied this: when the mixed marriage was between a French woman and a
foreign national man, he was authorized to apply for naturalization under
the condition that he had lived in France for at least a year. On 10 August
1927, acknowledging the extent of immigration, the French government
passed a law designed to integrate the newly settled foreigners into the I
I
I
I
I
I
I
I
G. NEYRAND, M. M'SILI 392
Г llNED
125 97
— / 30,000
20,000
— - 10,000
n
1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992
Year
Figure 1. - Mixed marriages between French and foreign
nationals, 1973-92
14 Percentage
1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992
Year
Figure 2. - Percentage of mixed marriages among all marriages,
1973-92