‘Doing family’ in transnational marriages: Second generation women’s
attachment to work
Institute for Social Research
Pb 3233 Elisenberg, 0208 Oslo, Norway
Work in progress – please do not quote without permission from the author.
The children of the 1960s and 70s labour migrants to Europe tend to marry spouses from their
parents’ country of origin, and in public discourse there are recurrent concerns about the implication
of such transnational marriages, particularly for second-generation women. This article investigates
how the transnational aspect of marriages between second-generation women and migrant men
creates certain common conditions for establishing a way of ‘doing family’ in such marriages,
focussing specifically on women’s balance between motherhood and paid work. The study is based on
in-depth interviews with second-generation women with a Pakistani background who have married
transnationally, and separate interviews with some of their migrant husbands. Three central
conditions for ‘doing family’ in transnational marriages are identified: 1) Conflicting expectations of
family life; 2) Unsettled gendered power relations; and 3) Economic vulnerability. These factors can
work together in different ways to create different outcomes for the organisation of family life. The
economic vulnerability in transnational marriages can create strong incentives for women to work;
for some women reinforcing an already strong orientation towards work, while for others making it
hard to prioritise education over earning an income, potentially locking them in marginalised parts of
Keywords: second generation, transnational marriage, work-family balance, Pakistani, Norway
Across Europe, there is a trend that the children of migrants turn to their parents’ country of origin to
find spouses. In public discourse, there are recurrent concerns about such transnational marriages,
and they are increasingly seen as a threat to the second generation’s cultural and socio-economic
integration (cf. Alexander 2012; Grillo 2008; Kraler, Kofman, Kohli, & Schmoll 2011). There is
particular concern about the consequences of transnational marriages for second-generation women
(Charsley 2006). The fear is that migrant husbands will bring with them patriarchal understandings of
gender that are incompatible with ‘Western’ ideals of gender equality, and enforce ‘traditional’
family practices that will keep women confined to the domestic sphere and out of the labour market.
However, there is little research available about how family life is organised in transnational
marriages (Liversage 2012).
This article analyses transnational marriages between second-generation women and
migrant men in Norway, and asks 1) what characterises the conditions for ‘doing family’ (cf. Morgan 1996) in transnational marriages? and 2) what consequences can these conditions have for the gendered division of labour in transnational marriages? More precisely, this article examines how the
transnational aspect of these marriages shapes the conditions for women’s adaptations between motherhood and paid work.
The ways of ‘doing family’ that are established in transnational marriages can be understood
as a bricolage
that draws on ‘cultural elements’ from both spouses’ home countries (cf. Kivisto 2001). Two key questions are thus which elements are chosen and what family practices are actually established. Liversage (2012) has demonstrated how men and women can have different interests in what kind of bricolage
is forged, and she emphasises the importance of examining how gender and power relations play into this process. This article analyses how the husband’s migratory situation shapes the bricolage process of establishing a way of ‘doing family’ when second-generation women marry transnationally.
Transnational marriages and family practices
Transnational marriages in the second generation are particularly common amongst children of the labour migrants from South Asia, Turkey, and Morocco (Beck-Gernsheim 2007; Charsley & Shaw 2006; Daugstad 2008; Schmidt 2011; Timmerman & Wets 2011). In Norway, 70 per cent of the marriages children of Pakistani migrants enter are transnational, and the share is the same amongst men and women (Daugstad 2008).
Studies of transnational marriages in the second generation have to a large extent focussed
on the motivations and processes behind the choice to find a spouse in the parents’ country of origin. Arranged marriages are the norm in the communities where transnational marriages are most common. Thus, the research literature has understood the marriage process as a family project, often concentrating on the parents’ motivations for transnational marriages (Beck-Gernsheim 2007; Shaw 2001).
Three main clusters of motivations emerge from the research literature (cf. Beck-Gernsheim
2007). First, some emphasise the role of kinship ties, kinship obligations, and the emotional ties of kinship (e.g. Gardner 2006; Shaw 2006; Shaw & Charsley 2006). Second, transnational marriages have been understood as a result of adaptations to different ‘marriage markets’. Migrant families might perceive that there are more suitable candidates available in the family’s country of origin, and furthermore, the status as a ‘migrant’ can represent an advantage in the marriage market ‘back home’, giving migrants and their children the upper hand in marriage negotiations (cf. Beck-Gernsheim 2007; Straßburger 2004). Third, transnational marriages can be motivated by a wish to establish certain gender relations. Transnational marriages involve gendered and geographical imaginings of potential partners, for instance, when men in Europe seek wives from South Asia in the expectation that they will bring with them ‘traditional’ views on family life (Charsley & Shaw 2006; Constable 2005). Some studies suggest that young women may also favour a spouse from their parents’ home country because of a desire to reinvigorate ‘traditional family culture and religion’ (Shaw 2006: 217; see also Schmidt 2011). Lievens (1999), on the other hand, argues that women might marry partners from their parents’ country of origin in order to secure more independence after marriage, because transnational marriage frees them from the traditional high and direct influence of their in-laws and enhances their position within the new household.
Though there has been a growing body of research about the motivations for transnational
marriages in the second generation, less is known about what actually happens within
these marriages (Beck-Gernsheim 2007; Liversage 2012). However, there has been a growing interest in
how migration affects gender relations more generally. For instance, Mahler and Pessar (2001, 2006) analyse ‘gendered geographies of power’ and ask what happens with gender ideologies and norms when they cross geographical locations. The existing evidence is mixed; the gains for men and women may be uneven and contradictory, and patriarchal structures can be both challenged and reinforced by migration (see for instance Mahler & Pessar 2006; Parrado & Flippen 2005 for an overview).
In transnational marriages, the migrant spouse, regardless of gender, is often in a relatively
weak position in the marital relationship. The networks lost through migration, the advantages of citizenship and knowledge of the language and institutions in the country of residence, combined with other local or global structures of power may nuance or radically transform gendered domestic power relations when the husband is the migrating spouse, while patriarchal power dynamics may be reinforced when the migrant spouse is female (Charsley 2005, 2012; Liversage 2012). The process of migration and the dynamics of transnationalism can shape marriage practices and marital relationships (Charsley & Shaw 2006: 332), but there is still little knowledge about how
Parrado and Flippen (2005) argue that analyses of gender and migration must distinguish
between different dimensions of gender relations to capture in what domains women gain autonomy and where inequalities are maintained or reinforced. One such domain is women’s relation to paid work. Studies of transnational marriages in British-Pakistani communities illustrate how spouses in transnational marriages can have different ideals and expectations regarding women’s employment outside the family (Charsley 2005; Dale & Ahmed 2011). However, large-scale quantitative studies in Britain and Norway find that the husband’s background – whether he is a migrant or born in Britain/Norway – does not affect second-generation women’s attachment to paid work (Brekke & Rogstad 2011; Dale & Ahmed 2011). Instead, the studies point to the importance of qualifications; women with higher education are more likely to be employed. Dale and Ahmed (2011) suggest that transnational marriages can have a ‘concealed’ effect on women’s labour market participation because marriage can curtail women’s education (Dale & Ahmed 2011: 920). In other words, transnational marriages can disrupt second-generation women’s education, something that in turn can impede women’s attachment to paid work.
The research that has been conducted on family life in transnational marriages tends to
concentrate on the role of gender and migration status, without exploring the effect of the spouses’ social position (e.g. Charsley 2005; Liversage 2012). However, women’s educational attainment and the accompanying opportunities in the labour market can be central factors for understanding the specific processes that shape marital relations and family practices in transnational marriages.
After outlining the present study and the Norwegian context, this article analyses how the
transnational aspect of transnational marriages can shape the conditions for doing family. The article then explores what consequences these conditions can have for second-generation women’s relation to paid work and discusses how the consequences of transnational marriages for second-generation women depend on the women’s educational attainment at the time of marriage.
About the study
This article is based on a qualitative study of how second-generation women in Norway balance
motherhood and paid work. The study includes 14 in-depth interviews with second-generation
women of Pakistani background, in addition to separate interviews with five of their husbands. The
analysis in this article is delimited to the cases where the women have married transnationally, i.e. married a man from Pakistan who subsequently came to Norway through family reunification. The empirical material for this article consists of interviews with nine second-generation women and two of their marriage-migrant husbands. All have pre-school-aged children, while some also have school-aged children. The study includes women both with and without higher education. Four of the women have higher education, while two recently have taken up higher education, after they married and had children. Two of the women have vocational education at an upper secondary level, and one has no formal qualifications. Both the marriage-migrant husbands have higher education from Pakistan.
The participants’ were recruited from a variety of sources (schools, ethnic organisations,
snowball sampling, and personal networks) in order to obtain variation in the families’ situations. The interviews were carried out in an informal manner and took a broad approach to the participants’ life stories and ways of doing family.
The analysis is mainly based on the second-generation women’s perspective, but the
interviews with the marriage-migrant husbands are used for elaborating the argument. As this is a relatively small-scale qualitative study, the intention is not to make generalisable statements about the consequences of transnational marriages. Instead, the interviews can illustrate how the migratory aspect might shape the marital relationship and family practices in transnational marriages, and thus contribute to constructing empirically grounded understandings of the dynamics in transnational marriages in a specific context.
The women in the study, regardless of educational background, are oriented towards work.
Thus, they offer an interesting entry point for studying the potential negotiation of women’s employment in transnational marriages. In the following analysis I will elaborate on some of the empirical cases that are particularly illustrative of how the transnational aspect shapes ways of doing family, while at the same time commenting on the variations in the empirical material.
The Norwegian context
The present study is set in Norway, a country with a relatively short history of migration. The first
substantial migration from outside the Nordic countries came in the late 1960s, and consisted mainly
of unskilled labour migrants from rural Pakistan. After a brief period when labour migration was
welcomed, immigration policies have become increasingly restrictive (Brochmann & Kjeldstadli
2008). Today, family migration is practically the only alternative for aspiring migrants from Pakistan
to Norway. In fact, family migration has become the most common source of migration to Norway
from countries outside the EEA (European Economic Area), and a substantial portion are marriages
with spouses from the family’s country of origin (Henriksen 2010b).
The children of the 1960s and 70s labour migrants from Pakistan are beginning to reach
adulthood, and they tend to marry transnationally. Despite coming from families with low education levels, the children of Pakistani migrants, especially the girls, are pursuing higher education to an even greater extent than the Norwegian population in general (Henriksen 2010a). The educational success of the second generation should be understood in light of the Norwegian education system, which provides free higher education and has a relatively even standard of education across institutions (Arnesen & Lundahl 2006; Reisel 2012).
The large share of second-generation women in higher education points to upward social
mobility and a radical change in biography compared to their mothers who were often homemakers
with little education. However, the second generation is still young, and not much is known about whether and how the women will use their education in the labour market once they have children.
This issue is particularly interesting to study in a Norwegian context, where there is a strong
gender-equality ideology and where the dual-income family is the norm both in politics and in practice. Norway has high labour market participation rates amongst women, also for mothers of pre-school-aged children (Ellingsæter 2009). The large share of working mothers is often attributed to the active family policies that aim to support women in combining motherhood and paid work. Two central components of the family policy are generous parental leave arrangements and extensive publicly sponsored provisions of childcare services from the time the child is one year old (Ellingsæter 2009; Leira 2002). Combined, parents have the right to about a year of paid parental leave (conditioned on the women’s employment before giving birth), and around three months of the parental leave is reserved for the father (see Ellingsæter 2009 for details). Women’s relation to work is not only posed as a question of gender equality, but also of economic welfare. The dual-breadwinner model is emphasised as vital, both for the economic sustainability of the generous welfare state, but also for the economic welfare of families in a country with high costs of living. Women’s participation in the labour market is fronted as a key objective in Norwegian integration policies (Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion 2012). Thus, the couples in this study establish a way of ‘doing family’ in a context where there are strong expectations that women, including mothers of small children, should work.
The conditions for doing family in transnational marriages
Transnational marriages are as different from each other as other marriages are; however, the aim of
this article is to analyse how the transnational aspect of transnational marriages adds to other
influences on the relation between the spouses and creates some common conditions for doing
family. I would like to point to three potential underlying conditions for family life in transnational
marriages. This is not an exhaustive or universally applicable list, but it reflects core elements of how
the transnational element may structure the conditions for establishing family practices in
1. The spouses’ conflicting expectations of family life 2. Unsettled gendered power relations 3. Economic vulnerability
The first two characteristics of transnational marriages concern internal dynamics of the marital relation, while the third refers to a structural condition within which the couple try to establish a way of organising their family life. When combined, they define the context for doing family in transnational marriages and the context for how women balance motherhood and paid work. After elaborating on the three conditions for doing family in transnational marriages, I proceed to explore how these conditions can work together to create different outcomes for different groups of women.
Conflicting expectations of family life
In marriages between second-generation women and men migrating from the ‘old’ labour migrant
sending countries, the husband will often come from a gendered context where men are expected to
be breadwinners and women are responsible for the home. In contrast, the wife has grown up in a Western – in this case Norwegian – society where gender equality is the dominant norm. Studies of transnational marriages have shown that understandings of gender and ways of doing family can be a central site of disagreement between the spouses who have grown up in different cultural contexts (Charsley 2005; Liversage 2012).
Finding a husband from the parents’ country of origin does not necessarily reflect a desire for
a ‘traditional’ organisation of family life (cf. Charsley 2005; Dale & Ahmed 2011; Lievens 1999). The women in this study generally perceive men from Pakistan as more ‘traditional’ than men in Norway, and some were anxious about marrying transnationally (cf. Dale & Ahmed 2011). For instance, Hana explains that she was worried about marrying a ‘conservative’ man, and she describes gender equality as a central concern for both herself and the second generation more generally:
The second generation now is very concerned with things being equally divided and all that. One is conscious of it because many immigrants have been described as: no, it’s the man who decides everything here.
The women in this study distance themselves from the strict gendered division of labour that they grew up with, and instead expect and hope for a more equal division of labour with their husbands. The women have high expectations for their family life and wish to be good mothers who provide their children with high quality childcare. At the same time, they are oriented towards work, regardless of their educational background, and they insist on pursuing projects outside the realm of the family, like education and paid work (Nadim 2012; see also Prieur 2002). Through their experiences in the education system, the labour market, and the Norwegian society more generally, the women have met strong expectations to work. Additionally, the women’s ambitions in education and the labour market are sometimes strongly supported by their families, which have worked hard to achieve social mobility (cf. Nadim 2012; Rytter 2011).
Although the female participants generally depict their husbands as more ‘liberal’ than they
initially feared, several of the couples in my study experience that they have different ideals and expectations concerning family life. In the following I present some empirical examples of how such conflicting expectations can be played out.
Jamila and Jafar express that their way of doing family in Norway is a topic of discussion.
They have one child, and both spouses are highly educated and work full time. According to Jafar, differing expectations of family life is a source of ‘conflicts and a bit of trouble’. Jamila thematises their disagreements in terms of cultural differences:
I can’t get him [Jafar] to contribute much, even if I try [laughs]. Because he comes from another culture [where] there are other ways of raising children, there are other… He is used to completely other conditions at home than Norwegian families are used to.
Jamila implies that while her husband comes from a Pakistani culture, her expectations are more in line with what she conceives of as the typical Norwegian family. Jafar articulates a similar understanding of cultural differences in the marriage. He suggests that Jamila has ‘Norwegian’ expectations of how they should organise their family life, expecting him to ‘help out 50 per cent at home’, something he finds very difficult because he was not used to participating in household or childrearing work in Pakistan.
Jamila went back to work part time when their son was one year old, while her mother cared
for the child. Their son started kindergarten when he was two years old, and Jamila began working full time. Jafar did not agree that Jamila should prioritise work over being at home with their child:
No, we did not agree about sending him to kindergarten that early. I wanted her to stay at home with him at least one more year because he was too little. I feel the child has to be with his mother until he’s… at least two, three years.
Jafar generally supports Jamila’s aspirations in the labour market, but he thinks she should have waited longer to return to work.
In a similar manner, Muna and Malik disagreed about how Muna should balance work and
family when they had their first child. Muna has a demanding job, and describes herself as career oriented and ambitious. Both she and Malik are highly educated. Muna went back to full-time work after a year of paid parental leave. At the time of the interview she was pregnant with their second child, and again plans to go back to work after the paid parental leave. Her husband, Malik, on the other hand, wishes Muna could have stayed home longer with their son and now with their second child.
The examples of Jamila and Muna illustrate the general pattern in my empirical material. It is
often questions related to the gendered division of work, and the balance between the women’s responsibility as mothers and their aspirations to work that come to highlight the spouses’ different expectations for their joint family life. The women describe their husbands as mostly supportive of their ambitions to work, and the women’s relation to work only become an issue once they have children. The issue is not whether
the women should work outside the family, but how
motherhood and paid work should be combined in practice: When is it appropriate to return to work and how much should the women dedicate themselves to their job?
In some cases, the conflicting expectations concern more fundamental issues related to
different understandings of gendered life projects. A recurrent question for Yasmin and her husband has been whether or not she should pursue higher education. She had just completed upper secondary school, several years delayed, when her husband came to Norway and disrupted her plans to study further. Yasmin says that after having three children, her ambition to study began feeling more pressing, and for several years she tried to persuade her husband that she needed more education:
Because he’s always been like: You don’t need to get an education, we can do this. I can get a job. Worst case we move back [to Pakistan]. That’s always been a plan B in his mind. But I haven’t accepted that. For me, you know what, that’s not the way it’s going to be and it’s not the way it is! So luckily I’ve managed to persuade him again. I have to have that education. Regardless of whether I’m going to work or use it or not, but I have to have it for my own sake.
Yasmin’s husband seems to view her education mainly as a strategy for securing the household’s income and holds that they do not ‘need’ her to pursue an education. According to Yasmin, he thinks she should prioritise taking care of the children and their home. Yasmin, on the other hand, argues that she needs an education for her own sake. Throughout the interview she emphasises that she wants to ‘become something’ so her children can be proud of her, and that an education is important
for her sense of worth and achievement. In this case the spouses appear to have conflicting understandings and ideals concerning women’s life projects.
These empirical examples illustrate how marriages across cultural contexts can involve
conflicting expectations of how to do family. Of course, spouses within the same cultural context also can bring with them different desires and experiences of family life into the marriage. However, the migration inherent in transnational marriages can bring together spouses from different gendered contexts. Thus they are particularly likely to have distinct experiences, expectations, and desires for a joint family life. I now turn to examine the potential outcomes of these conflicting expectations.
Unsettled power relations
I have argued that transnational marriages can be characterised by conflicting expectations and
understandings of family life, and a pertinent question becomes how the differences are settled. The
power relations in Pakistani families are sometimes characterised as patriarchal both in the pre- and
post-migration context; men (fathers and husbands) have authority over women (e.g. Prieur 2002).
However, power is not static; it is variable, contextual, and relational (cf. Yuval-Davis 2006), and the
migration context can potentially restructure gendered power relations. Transnational marriages in
the second generation entail a couple where one spouse is settled in the country of residence and
the other is a newly arrived immigrant. The research literature has demonstrated that the migrant
spouse, regardless of gender, is often in a weak position in the marital relationship (e.g. Charsley
2005; Liversage 2012). The migrant spouses usually lack language skills (especially when migrating to
a non-English speaking country), have limited personal networks, and lack institutional and social
knowledge about the society they have migrated to. Furthermore, marriage-migrants can be in a
vulnerable legal position because in many European countries, for a shorter or longer period of time,
their residence permit is conditional on the continuation of their marriage. The difference in position
between a settled woman and a newly arrived male immigrant can thus restructure gendered power
relations, and potentially lay the foundation for the negotiation of family norms and practices (see
Beck-Gernsheim 2007; Charsley 2005; Liversage 2012).
This article does not explicitly analyse relations of power in the martial couple, but rather the
spouses (stated) involvement in decisions of how to organise their family life. The conflicting expectations the couples experience are handled in different ways. Jamila and Jafar do not agree about how she should balance motherhood and work, and Jafar expresses a sense of being left out of the decision to send their son to kindergarten:
Interviewer: If you wanted him not to start kindergarten, how did you make… Was it something you discussed or how did you make that decision? Jafar: No, we didn’t discuss it. We didn’t agree. And she had to… she said she had to prioritise her job. And she did.
Muna and Malik also describe a situation where Muna went back to work without involving Malik in explicit discussions. Malik explains that he wanted Muna to prioritise motherhood over her career, at least for a while:
Right, career is very important, I understand that. But if she didn’t have that good education and she didn’t have career goals and [if she had] a completely normal job, factory worker or something, I would have, we would perhaps consider that she doesn’t go to work. And that
after… after three, four years when she is done with children and everything, then she goes back to work. But I understand that… I have career plans, so I respect it, that she goes back to work and all that.
Although he did not initially agree with the organisation of childcare and work, Malik says he accepts that Muna wants to use her education and pursue a career. Both Jafar and Malik appear somewhat resigned on how their wives balance motherhood and paid work. Family ideals and practices that they previously could take more or less for granted are challenged by their wives, and sometimes by their in-laws who generally support the women’s ambitions to work (Nadim 2012). That the husbands appear not to explicitly argue for their preferences can reflect an awareness that they lack arguments that are considered legitimate in the social and cultural context they now find themselves in (cf. Prieur 2002: 57).
Yasmin’s husband, on the other hand, appears more involved and active in negotiations of
how to organise family life. Contrary to Jamila and Muna, who got at least some support from their parents, Yasmin describes having to fight both her husband and her mother. After several years, she has been successful in convincing her husband that she should apply for a university-level education:
So I got my husband to accept that I have to have an education. I think he needed those five, six years to realise and understand how the system works here and how it is here. How a woman must
be able to have an education. And that they approve or in a way value it. Gradually, he’s understood that it’s very difficult to get a job and get ends to meet at all.
Yasmin draws on two lines of reasoning in arguing for getting an education. First, she argues that women (‘here’) have the right to participate in education and have individual projects outside the realm of the family. Second, she uses an economic argument, reasoning that it is hard to manage economically without an education in Norway, even for non-migrants.
The husbands’ migratory situation changes the conditions for the resources and support he
has available in negotiations over family practices. First, in the new cultural context for doing family the husbands might be in a weaker position in terms of making arguments that are considered valid and legitimate to support their preferences. Though the husbands’ involvement in defining the balance between work and family seems to vary, my impression is that they (at least reluctantly) accept that the women pursue work and education to a greater extent than they would have initially liked. In the encounter with a different cultural and structural context for doing family, the husbands seem to adjust their expectations for family life and views of what is reasonably proper and possible.
Second, Charsley (2005) has demonstrated how the settled spouse’s family plays a central
role in potentially disempowering (or empowering) the migrant spouse. While the wives are still close to their families and network, sometimes even living in the same house, the husbands leave behind their families and social networks – and the potential support they offer.
Third, through their strong ties to the Norwegian educational system and labour market,
education and work are available
for the women. Thus, the women have relatively easy access
to endeavours outside the family, regardless of their husbands’ viewpoints.
Last, as I will elaborate on in the next section, being a migrant might make it challenging for
the husband to fill a breadwinning role, which can disempower him in negotiations in the family and make him dependent on his wife’s income.
How power relations are played out in transnational marriages of course depend on the
couple’s micro-context (cf. Liversage 2012). Yet the husband’s migrant status can create specific
types of inequalities in the marital relation, potentially disempowering him in negotiations over how to organise family life.
Above, I illustrated how the migratory situation in transnational marriages can entail conflicting
expectations and shape the gendered power relations among couples. In addition, the migratory
situation of the husbands can bring with it an economic vulnerability that represents a structural
condition within which the couples negotiate a way of organising their family life.
Research on the labour market attachment of migrants demonstrates that the threshold for
accessing the labour market can be high for newly arrived migrants, especially in a country like Norway where there is relatively little demand for unskilled work and the risk of hiring is considered high because of strong worker rights. When migrants do access the labour market, they often enter jobs that are below their level of qualification (Støren & Wiers-Jenssen 2010). The experiences of the families in this study echo this general pattern. While most of the migrant husbands have ended up with work that more or less matches their qualifications, most had trouble finding work when they first arrived and have gone through a (shorter or longer) period of unstable, badly paid, low-skilled work. Even when the migrant husbands gain access to relevant parts of the labour market, their work history often continues to be characterised by instability.
For some of the women, the family’s economic situation lays the foundation for how they
balance work and family. Nadia explains that her husband’s difficulties finding stable and decently paid work has impelled her to take a larger responsibility for the family’s economy than she wanted. Nadia has a higher education and works full time in the public sector. With both children she went back to work after the one-year period of paid maternity leave. However, she had hoped to work less while the children were young:
The expectation was that when I had children, I would stay a bit more at home. That was the expectation, and that, in a way, my husband would earn so much that it would be enough.
Although Nadia enjoys her job and finds it meaningful, she describes feeling pressured to work more and sooner than she wanted because of the family’s challenging economic situation resulting from her husband’s difficulties in the labour market.
Irrespective of their position in the labour market, migrants can experience economic
insecurity and obligations that make economic considerations particularly pertinent. The transnational marriages that I study entail migration between countries with different economic situations and standards of living, and experiences of economic hardship before migration can instil a sense of economic vulnerability even after migration. For instance, Sara’s husband came from an economically difficult situation in Pakistan. Both Sara and her husband now have stable and well-paid jobs. Still, she explains that her husband is extremely concerned with their household economy, prioritising economic concerns over other considerations, something she attributes to his previous experiences of poverty.
Furthermore, economic considerations can become particularly salient in transnational
marriages because of financial obligations to family and others in the migrant spouse’s country of origin. Migrants can face substantial pressure to send money even if they are in a weak financial position (cf. Carling 2008). The obligation to send remittances often has a gendered character, and for Pakistani families this responsibility traditionally falls on men (Erdal 2012; Shaw 2001). Thus,
financial obligations to kin are particularly relevant in transnational marriages with a male
migrant spouse. Most of the families in my study send or have sent money to the husband’s family in Pakistan. However, there are variations in both the economic need of the family in Pakistan and the degree to which the couples prioritise remittances over financial needs in Norway. Some explicitly hold that they (or more precisely, the husband) only send remittances once they have covered their own financial needs, while others describe making large economic sacrifices in order to support the husband’s family in Pakistan.
For instance, Yasmin has found it hard to invest in an education because of the family’s
difficult economic situation and their economic obligations to her husband’s family in Pakistan. Like Nadia, she has had to support her husband and children because her husband has not been able to find work. However, Yasmin was not qualified for skilled work when she married, and she has struggled to find decent work herself, taking odd jobs cleaning and delivering the newspaper. Although the couple live in Yasmin’s mother’s house and receive economic support from her, their economic situation is very tight, and at times they rely on social security benefits. In addition, her husband’s family in Pakistan depends on their economic support. Yasmin describes economic concerns as important to them:
That thing about work and economy has been very important. Because we have to
… we have to
support down there and we have to
make ends meet here.
Furthermore, she explains that her plans to pursue an education have been postponed because economic considerations and childbirths got in the way:
Yasmin: I’ve just gotten pregnant and been a cleaning lady. And then it was maternity leave and then another maternity leave and a sister-in-law getting married and a brother-in-law getting married. And we have to contribute and we have to help with that. Interviewer: So, it’s been important to work to… Yasmin: To help them, yes. And then my studies haven’t been very important, neither for myself nor for my husband nor for my mom.
The family’s economic situation and their obligations to support her husband’s family in Pakistan have for a long time structured Yasmin’s relation to education and work.
Decisions regarding women’s relation to paid work and education do not only revolve around
economic considerations. In Yasmin’s case, the discussions about her educational plans also raised the question of women’s need and right to individual projects outside the family. In some families gendered understandings of family and parenthood are considered more important than the economic contributions of women’s investment in work and education. For instance, Dara explains that education above lower secondary school was not an available option for her: ‘It wasn’t something I could choose. If I could choose, I would’ve chosen education’. She got married when she was 18 years old, and once married she was expected to care for the family and home full time. Although they have struggled economically as a one-income family, it was never a question that she should contribute by working.
The post-migrant situation can involve economic vulnerability, even long after migration.
Thus, economic considerations may become particularly pressing in transnational marriages. The
economic vulnerability represents a structural condition with potential consequences for the women’s adaptation to work and how these couples ‘do family’. The husband’s migration might unsettle not only gendered power relations in the couple, but can also disrupt ‘traditional’ gender roles because the wife becomes an important, and sometimes primary, economic provider for the family.
The consequences for women’s adaptations to work
This article argues that the transnational aspect of marriages between second-generation women
and migrating men can create some common conditions for how family life is done and negotiated. I
would here like to point to two processes that these conditions can lead to. Whether or not the
women were qualified for skilled work when they married marks a key distinction.
First, in some cases the economic insecurity following migration, the women’s strong
orientation towards work, and their advantageous position in negotiations of family practices, work together to reinforce the women’s attachment to the labour market. For instance, we have seen how both Muna and Jamila wish to prioritise their jobs and careers, contrary to their husbands’ preferences. Neither of the women uses economic arguments to justify their adaptations to work, though they each had to provide for their husbands when the men first came to Norway. For other women, like Nadia, the economic necessity of working is more pronounced.
Although these women differ on how they wish to balance motherhood and paid work, the
women with higher education have in common the fact that they are oriented towards work, and through their educational qualifications, they have access to work they find meaningful. The women use their education and access to career as arguments for prioritising work. As Jamila explains, ‘I didn’t take that education just to have an education and then sit at home’.
Even if the economic situation becomes difficult and they feel pressured to work more than
they ideally want, the highly educated women enter the kinds of work they had aspired to and that often have opportunities for mobility and development. Thus, for the women with a completed education the economic ‘push’ towards work the migratory situation creates can go hand in hand with their career aspirations and understandings of work as a means of self-fulfilment.
Second, in some cases marriage and establishing a family have disrupted the women’s
educational plans. The economic insecurity following the husband’s migration might mean that the women cannot afford to invest in education rather than paid work. In addition, cultural understandings of gender and motherhood may mean that women are not expected to and get little support to make achievements in education or the labour market.
Educational attainment is important for the kind of work and wages the women can access.
Being qualified for skilled work can be the key to accessing employment that offers decent pay and opportunities for mobility and development. For instance, we have seen how Yasmin put aside her educational plans in order to provide for her family, only to experience that it is hard to find work without an education. Economic considerations, combined with little support for her educational aspirations, for a long time locked her in a ‘dead-end’ segment of the labour market where she did not feel she belonged. However, like Yasmin, several women in this study experienced that their marriage and the accompanying economic pressures meant that their educational plans were
for several years, but not necessarily dismissed completely.
The three conditions of transnational marriages analysed in this article – conflicting
expectations, unsettled power relations, and economic vulnerability – are present to varying degrees and can work together to create different outcomes for second-generation women and their adaptations between motherhood and family on the one hand and individual projects outside the home, like education and work, on the other hand.
How couples organise their family life and how women balance motherhood and paid work of course varies. This article has explored how the transnational aspect
of marriages where second-generation women marry men from their parent’s country of origin can add to other influences on the relation between the spouses and the conditions for establishing a way of doing family.
First, transnational marriages can entail conflicting expectations and understandings of
family life, potentially intensifying the need for negotiating the couple’s family practices. Second, the marital relation is coloured by the fact that only the husband is a newly arrived immigrant in the context of their everyday life, potentially empowering the woman over her migrant husband. Third, and potentially structuring the first two conditions, the migration in transnational marriages can entail economic vulnerability and economic obligations to the migrant spouse’s family, making economic considerations particularly important when establishing a way to do family.
How rights and responsibilities are negotiated in the couple depends on the context of
situational opportunities and constraints as well as on cultural meaning. One key dimension shaping women’s opportunities is their educational attainment. The economic vulnerability in transnational marriages can create strong incentives for women to work. For some women this reinforces an already strong orientation towards work, while for others it can mean having to prioritise an income over education, potentially locking them in the marginalised parts of the labour market. This study supports and adds qualitative understandings to the quantitative findings that transnational marriages do not seem to hinder second-generation women’s employment (Brekke & Rogstad 2011; Dale & Ahmed 2011). Thus, the emerging empirical research on transnational marriages in the second generation suggests that the concern that transnational marriages represent obstacles to integration for second-generation women might be exaggerated, at least if integration is understood as participation in the labour market.
The identification of characteristics of transnational marriages stems from a gendered
analysis, in that it only considers marriages in the second generation where the husband
is the migrant spouse. One can expect to find other outcomes and processes when the wife is the migrant spouse, for instance, gendered relations of power might be reinforced rather than challenged (Liversage 2012). However, the same dimensions of analysis can be fruitful also in studies of marriages with a migrant wife. Future research on transnational marriages and the second generation should further explore how transnational marriages can have different consequences for different groups of second-generation men and women, since much of the research so far has not been concerned with differences within the category ‘second generation’.
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Safer Britain, Safer WorldThe decision not to replace Trident The decision on whether or not to replace Britain’s nuclear weapons system must be taken on the basis of what will most contribute to the security of the British people. A decision not to replace Trident will best meet that requirement. It will strengthen the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime
Rions un peu !!!! Pour quelles raisons les femmes mariées grossissent-elles alors que les femmes célibataires maigrissentEn fait c'est très simple :La célibataire va au frigo, n'y trouve rien d'intéressant et retourne au lit. La femme mariée va au lit, n'y trouve rien d'intéressant et retourne au frigo.! ______________________________________________________ Une femme arrive chez son