Cultural transmission of intermarried second-generation immigrants: an international comparison

Kris R. Noam, University of California, Irvine

Marriages between immigrants, or their (grand) children, and the native-born population are an important indicator of the immigrants’ integration to the mainstream population. Social scientists argue that intermarriage signifies social acceptance and cultural similarity between different groups. This research questions this assumption and scrutinizes the extent to which second-generation immigrants continue to transfer their ethnic culture to their children, despites being married to a member of the local population. The degree to which second-generation immigrants are familiar with their ethnic culture and the extent to which they are able to transfer it to their children, depends not only on their own childrearing strategies but also on national policies regarding immigration, integration and ethnicity. This research takes a cross-national comparison to come to a fuller understanding of these dynamics influence the cultural transmission of second-generation immigrants and their partners. I conducted interviews with second-generation Chinese and their native-born partners in a country with multicultural legacy (the Netherlands) and in a nation with an assimilative approach (the United States). The interviews focused on overt cultural practices (e.g. dietary habits, language, and holiday celebrations) and covert cultural values (by doing a number of psychological tests). The initial results of the study show that in the Netherlands parents transfer the Chinese culture directly and intentionally, while in the United States parents pass on their culture in a more indirect and unintentional fashion. The rich qualitative data is supplemented with quantitative records on national demographics and ethnic identity of both parents and their children. The overall findings indicate that the Chinese culture continues to be transferred, questioning the extent to which intermarriage is indeed an appropriate indicator of integration. These findings can be a sign of how marriages between immigrants and the native-born local population influence the ethnic and cultural identity of a nation’s mainstream.

Presented in Session 55: Union formation of migrants: antecedents and consequences