Where are inter-ethnic couples more likely to meet – at work or in their residential neighbourhoods?

7 joulu 2017

“How to find a right partner?” is probably the question that most of us have struggled to answer at some phase in life. Some might have an answer based on individual experience. Academic study of partnership, however, can reveal a generalised experience of large number of individuals. These studies often use the term “marriage market” to describe the structure of opportunities one has to meet potential partners. Although we may have aspirations about the ideal partner, the prerequisite for forming a romantic relationship is meeting each other. Places where we live or work, people with whom we meet through our daily interaction networks are crucial in finding a partner.

Recent decades have brought along increased immigration to Finland. This  has changed the ethnic structure of the Finnish “marriage market”. Currently around 8 percent of working-age population in Finland has roots in another country. This has also influenced partner choice. In 1999 only 1 percent of cohabiting partnerships were inter-ethnic, but by 2014, 3 percent of Finnish men and 2 percent of Finnish women lived with a partner from a different ethnic group. A higher share of intermarriages is often considered one of the most important indicators of ethnic integration. It shows tolerance towards migrants as well as unites the partners’ personal networks (relatives, friends).

In our recent study we looked at to which extent the share of immigrants at work places and residence areas influence the likelihood of choosing a foreign-born partner. Using register data for native Finns born from 1981 to 1995, we found that the Finnish men and women who had more possibilities to meet members of the other ethnic groups either at the workplace or in the neighbourhood are also more likely to move in together with a foreign-born partner. This does not necessarily mean that people partner with their neighbours or co-workers, but that being in daily contact with migrants seems to make native Finns more likely to form romantic relationships with members of the other ethnic groups.

We also found that if inter-ethnic contacts are present in both domains, the share of immigrants at the workplace might have somewhat stronger influence on intermarriage with migrants than the share of immigrants in the neighbourhood. One possible explanation is that people talk and interact more with their co-workers than with their neighbours. It could also be that, despite different ethnicity, those working in a same establishment might share more common characteristics, such as hobbies or similar professional profiles that we cannot measure from population register, than those living in the same neighbourhood.

This study helps to share light on the ways different daily activity sites may shape the partner choice of Finns. It also suggests that decreasing residential and workplace segregation can pave the way towards more fundamental forms of immigrant integration, such as intermarriage.

Leen Rahnu is a post-doctoral researcher at URMI project. Her research combines family demography with studies of ethnic relations and urban segregation. She is affiliated at the University of Tartu and at Tallinn University, Estonia.


We would like to acknowledge Statistics Finland for making the Finnish register data accessible for scientific study.

Further information

The manuscript of the research paper “The role of neighbourhood and workplace ethnic contexts in the formation of inter-ethnic partnerships: A native majority perspective” by Leen Rahnu, Allan Puur, Tom Kleinepier, Tiit Tammaru has been submitted to review.