Only in the last decade has Germany acknowledged its status as an immigrant-receiving country. This is largely due to the settlement of postwar guest workers from Turkey, Italy, and other southern European countries.
With this change in attitude has come greater government attention to integrating immigrants. German-language requirements and classes have topped the list, and accepting Germany's democratic norms and rule of law is mandatory for those naturalizing.
But beyond fluency in language and other indicators — such as employment levels and residential patterns — marriage between individuals of different ethnic and/or racial backgrounds is generally considered a test of integration.
As sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee wrote in Remaking the American Mainstream, "A high rate of intermarriage signals that the social distance between the groups involved is small and that individuals of putatively different ethnic backgrounds no longer perceive social and cultural differences significant enough to create a barrier to long-term union."
In contrast to traditional immigration countries such as the United States, research on intermarriage in Germany began comparably late. However, starting in the mid-1970s, the interest in understanding marriage patterns between native Germans and immigrants has grown steadily (see sidebar for definition of immigrants). A significant part of the literature has tried to underline the sociological and economic factors that foster interethnic partnerships.
Sociologists, including Julia Schroedter and Thomas Klein, have studied marital behavior of certain immigrant groups in Germany, such as Turks and Italians, finding different patterns depending on the country of origin and gender.
This article adds to the existing literature by analyzing recent data and using distinct definitions of immigrant status. It first examines the recent history of immigration to Germany and the size of Germany's main immigrant groups, namely those who came as guest workers in the 1950s and 1960s and asylum seekers who arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. A breakdown of immigrants by German region is also included.
The article then lays out the factors that influence intermarriage; looks at intermarriage trends by nationality, gender, and generation; and assesses the correlation of intermarriage with education level as one of the major determinants of interethnic relationships. Two data sets are used and compared: nationality data and microcensus data that distinguish the first from the second and later generations.
Due to data limitations, there is no breakdown of intermarriage rates by region or city. For the same reason, religious differences are not explored even though religion likely affects marriage decisions.
The data reveal that while immigrants from Turkey, by far the largest immigrant group in Germany, have had low rates of intermarriage in the first generation, intermarriage rates among second-generation Turkish men are increasing.
In addition, first-generation Poles, another large but less regionally clustered immigrant group, show comparably high intermarriage rates.
Furthermore, increased levels of education also seem to foster intermarriage.
Immigration to Germany
Before assessing trends in intermarriage, it is important to understand the composition and historic background of Germany's immigrant population.
Due to massive labor-supply shortages and extreme economic growth during the "German economic miracle" of the early 1950s, recruitment agreements were signed between West Germany (FDG) and southern European countries, namely Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia.
Based on the idea of "stay-and-return-migration" hundreds of thousands of labor migrants — mainly young men — were recruited predominantly into low-skilled positions in factories and a few industrial sectors. In general, they faced unfavorable working conditions and were expected to return to their home countries after a limited period of time.
But the "rotation model" failed, and the government's efforts to encourage return migration after recruitment ended in 1973 did not succeed. Family members of remaining guest workers, particularly those from Turkey, then came to Germany via family reunification provisions, effectively turning the guest workers into permanent migrants.
In the 1980s and 1990s, asylum seekers and ethnic Germans (Aussiedler), boosted flows — although the latter are not considered immigrants (see sidebar).
Civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, and conflicts in Kurdish territories of Turkey and in northern Iraq brought record numbers of asylum seekers. Germany received over 430,000 applications in 1992, according to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Ethnic Germans, predominately from Poland, Romania, and the former Soviet Union, arrived in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
More recently, new waves of seasonal workers and labor migrants with temporary contracts have come from Poland, the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European states. However, Germany maintains restrictions on free labor movement from the Eastern European countries that joined the European Union in 2004.
Immigrant Population Today
According to the Central Registry of Foreigners (AZR), 6.7 million foreigners — which includes the nonnaturalized foreign born and noncitizen descendants of the foreign born — were living in Germany in 2008, making up 8.2 percent of Germany's 82.1 million people (see Table 1).
By nationality, Turkish nationals were the largest immigrant group in 2008 (25.1 percent), followed by nationals of Italy, Poland, and Greece (see Table 2). The gender ratio for groups originating from countries that supplied guest workers (almost exclusively men) is still less than 50 percent, except for Spain. In other words, men outnumber women.
In contrast, women greatly outnumber men among nationals from the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Overall, Germany has slightly more immigrant men than women.
According to Germany's 2007 microcensus, the population with migration background — which includes Aussiedler and their children as well as the German-citizen descendants of immigrants — totaled 15.4 million, or 18.7 percent of Germany's population (see Table 3). Of these 15.4 million, 16.4 percent were of Turkish origin.
Over two-thirds of those with migration background are members of the first generation ("own migration experience"); the remaining 31.7 percent are from the second and later generations ("without own migration experience").
Sorting the second and later generations by citizenship is difficult since most of these individuals were born in Germany and hold German citizenship. Also, information about their parents can be ambiguous.
In this group of second- or later-generation immigrants, only 12.3 percent became Germans by naturalization, whereas 2.8 million were German born with either one or both parents with migration background. They presumably hold dual citizenship and were not counted among the foreign population in previous statistics. Over half (1.4 million) have just one parent with migration background, meaning they are the children of mixed couples.
Among the non-Aussiedler first generation ("own migration experience") of 7.8 million, the majority remain foreign nationals; just 2.2 million, or 28.1 percent have acquired German citizenship. The Aussiedler, at 2.7 million, outnumber the naturalized.
With respect to regional distribution, the concentration of those with migration background is especially high in cities such as Hamburg (26.3 percent), Bremen (25.6 percent), and Berlin (23.8 percent) (see Table 4).
Those of Turkish descent make up 18.1 percent of the migrant-background population in Hamburg, 22.8 percent in Berlin, and 24.1 percent in Bremen. In contrast, only about 3 to 6 percent of each city's population is composed of members of the Polish community or originated from the Russian Federation countries (see Table 5).
Factors in Intermarriage
Factors typically affecting levels of intermarriage are generation, demographics, education, residential patterns, and the role of third parties (typically parents) who may pressure individuals to marry within their immigrant group.
Social boundaries between groups tend to fade over time, making intermarriage more likely in the second and third generations. Also, members of smaller immigrant groups are more likely to intermarry because they have fewer potential partners with the same ethnic background.
Generally, the higher an immigrant group's level of education, the higher the rate of intermarriage. Sociologist Matthijs Kalmijn has hypothesized that those with high levels of education may be less attached to their families or communities as they probably moved away to pursue their education.
In addition, economists Delia Furtado and Nikolaos Theodoropoulos found that highly educated immigrants are more likely to intermarry because they better adapt to the host country. Moreover, those whose educational levels are much higher or lower than their ethnic group's average are more likely to intermarry as economists Barry Chiswick and Christina Houseworth have reported.
Groups that are less clustered or segregated geographically are more likely to interact with those outside the group, increasing the chances of intermarriage. On a related note, since interpersonal relationships primarily evolve in settings such as schools and workplaces, a more culturally diverse school or workplace presents the opportunity for different groups to meet and interact.
Defining Intermarriage in Germany
Due to the way Germany classifies immigrants, intermarriage can be assessed in two ways: intermarriage by nationality and by migration background.
Intermarriage by nationality is marriage between a German citizen and someone who does not hold German citizenship, regardless of where that person was born. For example, an intermarriage by nationality could involve a German-citizen woman and the Turkish-nationality, German-born son of a Turkish guest worker.
Defining immigrant status by nationality is technically easy and generally unambiguous. But intermarriage status might change over time if the noncitizen spouse naturalizes.
Furthermore, these data include, misleadingly, marriages between naturalized citizens and noncitizens who are both of Turkish background, for example. Also, nationality data do not allow researchers to sort the foreign born (the first generation) from those noncitizens born in Germany to foreign-born parents (the second generation).
Intermarriage by migration background means the marital union of a person who does not have a migration background (i.e., a native-born German) with someone who does have a migration background.
In other words, this type of marriage data, only available from 2005 onward, includes members of the first, second, and later generations who hold German citizenship and who were not captured by the nationality data.
These data, which come from Germany's microcensus — a quarterly survey of 1 percent of the German population — make it possible to separate the first generation from later generations. Aussiedler can be explicitly pointed out as well.
However, due to definitional and data-related difficulties, the data do not allow distinctions between second and later generations. The data also make it impossible to further differentiate Germans whose parents have a migration background on one or both sides.
Intermarriage by Nationality
In Germany, the annual number of marriages, which are primarily between German citizens, has steadily declined since 1991 (see Figure 1).
In contrast, the annual number of new intermarriages trended upward from 1991, when there were 43,955 (9.7 percent of all new marriages), until 2002, when they peaked at 62,468 (15.9 percent). Since 2002, the annual number and the share have dropped. In 2006, there were 373,681 new marriages, 46,719 of which (12.5 percent) were intermarriages.
The annual number and share of new marriages between immigrants has remained relatively small and steady over time, with just 7,578 such marriages in 2006, or 2.0 percent of the total. The surprisingly low number of new intra-immigrant marriages can be explained by the data, which only count marriages certified by a German registry office. The vast majority of intra-immigrant marriages are most likely confirmed in the spouses' home country.
Over time, the balance of intermarriages has shifted from marriages between German women and foreign men to marriages between German men and foreign women (see Figure 2). As of 2006, 57.7 percent of new intermarriages involved a German man and 42.3 percent involved a German woman.
In looking at the stock of all marriages as of 2008, nationals from German-speaking countries, such as Austria (43.1 percent), and nationals from countries of the Russian Federation (57.8 percent) showed comparably high rates of marriage to German citizens (see Table 6).
Polish nationals were also among those with high intermarriage rates (37.3 percent). In contrast, Greek (6.7 percent) and Turkish (9.7 percent) nationals showed extremely low intermarriage rates. Overall, intermarriages made up 25.0 percent of all marriages involving at least one foreigner.
Breaking these numbers down by gender, noncitizen women generally were more often intermarried (27.8 percent) than noncitizen men (21.7 percent) (see Table 7a and Table 7b).
Among noncitizen women, those holding citizenship from Thailand (81.5 percent), the Russian Federation (62.2 percent), and Romania (55.3 percent) had high intermarriage rates.
Especially among male nationals from the Russian Federation (50.4 percent), the United States (49.5 percent), and Great Britain (42.2 percent), intermarriage levels were high, presumably because of allied troops based in Germany.
Intermarriage by Migration Background
Of the population with migration background, 7.2 million in 2007 were married, 18.9 percent to someone who does not have a migration background. Although the data cannot be compared directly, this share of intermarriages is smaller than the share observed among intermarriages by nationality.
This indicates that defining immigrant status by nationality alone overstates intermarriage rates. Some of the intermarriages in the nationality data might have been between immigrants who differ by nationality but share the same ethnic origin or migration history.
Yet, the migration-background data find similar trends. As with the intermarriage by nationality findings, women with migration background were more likely to be intermarried (19.9 percent) than men (18.0 percent) (see Table 8a and Table 8b).
Women of Polish origin had high rates of intermarriage (28.7 percent), as did women of Romanian (26.6 percent) and Ukrainian origin (21.7 percent). Female current or former Turkish nationals showed an extremely low intermarriage rate of below 3 percent.
In contrast, men of Italian origin had the highest intermarriage rate — 34.6 percent — for any origin, male or female. Also, they were the only group of men who had an intermarriage rate above the male average. Croatian and Polish men also showed high intermarriage rates of 16.3 and 14.2 percent, respectively. Again the rate of intermarriage among Turkish immigrants was markedly low, just 7.7 percent.
Looking at the migration-background data by generation reveals that second-generation men and women were less likely to be married than first-generation men and women. This is presumably because the second generation is dramatically younger — their average age is 15 compared to 43 for the first generation.
Among married women with migration background, the rates of intermarriage were about the same: 19.8 percent for the first generation and 20.6 for the second generation (see Table 9a).
But second-generation men who were married were more likely to be intermarried (29.6 percent) than first-generation married men (17.2 percent) (see Table 9b). This supports the assumption that later generations are more attached to the host country — at least with regard to men.
As for specific groups, the rate of intermarriage among first-generation Turkish men was 7.1 percent but 12.1 percent for the second generation. For men of Italian origin, the rate increased even more markedly — about 11 percentage points from the first to the second generation.
First-generation Turkish women had an intermarriage rate of 2.6 percent, but the data were insufficient for showing the intermarriage rate for married second-generation Turkish women. Due to the margin of error in such small populations, the microcensus only reports exact numbers above 5,000. Thus, comparing Turkish women by generation is not possible.
The difference for women of Italian origin, however, was dramatic: 12.6 percent in the first generation compared to 31.0 percent for the second generation.
Intermarriage Factor: Education
As outlined earlier, education level is assumed to be a leading factor in partner choice.
Germany has a tiered education system that tracks children at age 10 into Hauptschule (general school), Realschule (secondary school), or Gymnasium (university preparation). All three tracks culminate in a school-leaving exam.
Degrees from general schools only allow for apprenticeships, whereas graduates from secondary school may also apply for further education in so-called Fachoberschulen (technical colleges) to obtain the highest schooling degree, the Fachhochschulreife (advanced technical college entrance qualification), which corresponds to the German Abitur.
The Abitur — automatically obtained after completing Gymnasium — and the Fachhochschulreife are the only degrees that make individuals eligible to attend university or universities of applied science (Fachhochschule, or FH). These graduates can also start apprenticeships and attend trainee programs.
Here we define "educated" as completing one of the three secondary schools (general, secondary, and Gymnasium). Those who are "highly educated with respect to schooling" hold the Abitur or the Fachhochschulreife.
University degrees and degrees obtained from universities of applied science are the highest education levels possible in terms of vocational qualification, topped only by doctoral degrees and professorships following at least four years of Habilitation (postdoctoral lecture qualification).
Vocational training generally means education that follows completed secondary schooling. It includes apprenticeships and training as a doctor's assistant, banker, dispensing optician, or plumber, for example.
In 2007, 83.7 percent of Germany's population without migration background completed schooling compared to 63.7 percent among those with a migration background.
The share of male graduates with Abitur or Fachhochschulreife was also higher among natives (23.5 percent) compared to men with migration background (18.8 percent). In contrast, the share of immigrant women with Abitur or Fachhochschulreife was 19.7 percent, slightly higher than among natives (18.2 percent).
Also, those with migration background showed far lower rates of vocational training (39 percent) than natives (66.2 percent).
Moreover, 13.8 percent of native men and 8.5 percent of native women held university or FH degrees in 2007; the same was true for only 9.2 percent of men and 8.5 percent of women with migration background.
Both sets of intermarriage data show that especially first-generation women from Eastern European countries are most likely to intermarry. In addition, as education data by migration background show, large shares of women of Polish, Ukranian, and Romanian origin are highly educated in terms of both schooling and vocational qualification (see Table 10).
In contrast, those of Turkish origin, who have low intermarriage rates, also had lower graduation rates from all three school levels. Only 53.6 percent had completed schooling and only 9.2 percent of men and 7.6 percent of women held the Abitur or a comparable degree. The share of those of Turkish origin with vocational training was also exceptionally small compared to all other groups.
Thus, educational data are in line with the assumption that more educated immigrants are more likely to be intermarried. However, this correlation does not imply causality and is probably related to other factors that also affect marriage choice.
Even as the number of new marriages in Germany has decreased, the share of intermarriages in 2006 remained well above the share in the early 1990s though a downward trend in intermarriages is evident.
Examining intermarriage by nationality and migration background reveals that intermarriage rates have generally increased from the first to the second generation, as would be expected. Also, some of the country's groups, particularly Italian men and Polish immigrants, have significantly higher intermarriage rates than others.
First- and second-generation, male and female Turkish immigrants, by far the largest group in Germany, are least likely to marry a native German — not surprising given that group size and concentration influence intermarriage rates.
Yet, intermarriage rates for men of Turkish background increased from the first to the second generation. This indicates the second generation's greater commitment to and integration into German society.
Furthermore, data support the idea that intermarriage rates and education level correlate.
However, it is important to keep in mind that in addition to education, intermarriage rates are also related to residential patterns, religious beliefs, and third-party considerations, including legal restrictions and additional factors not explored here.
That said, the intermarriage findings here are in line with trends in traditional immigration countries like the United States and offer researchers another less-discussed way of understanding immigrant integration in Germany.
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Furtado, Delia. 2006. Human Capital and Interethnic Marriage Decisions. IZA – Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper Series No. 1989, Bonn. Available online.
Furtado, Delia and Nikolaos Theodoropoulos. 2008. Interethnic Marriage: A Choice between Ethnic and Educational Similarities. IZA – Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper Series No. 3448, Bonn. Available online.
Kalmijn, Matthijs. 1998. Intermarriage and Homogamy: Causes, Patterns, Trends. Annual Review of Sociology 24:395-421. Available online.
Klein, Thomas. 2001. Intermarriage between Germans and Foreigners in Germany. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, June 22, 2001.
Schroedter, Julia. 2006. Binationale Ehen in Deutschland. Wirtschaft und Statistik 4/2006, Statistisches Bundesamt. Available online.