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Interethnic Marriages Reflect Distances Between Ethnic Groups

The proportion of interethnic marriages in Russia varies widely depending on ethnicity. How common mixed-ethnicity families are depends largely on couples' ability to overcome cultural, religious and social differences between their ethnic groups and also on settlement and migration patterns. In his ground-breaking research, Eugeny Soroko, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Demography, measured the relative ‘distances’ between ethnic Russians and ten other ethnic groups using a tool he invented – the mixed family matrix.

According to Soroko's estimates based on data from the 2010 National Census, 12% of all married couples in Russia are between people of different ethnicities. Ethnic groups vary in how likely their members are to marry out of the group; e.g. Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks and Yakuts usually marry people of their own ethnicity, while more than 40% of Komi and Mordovian families are of mixed ethnicity, notes Soroko in his paper 'Ethnically Mixed Families in the Russian Federation' published in the Demographic Review (Vol. 1, no. 4, 2015).

Different ethnic groups that live in the former Soviet Union vary in terms of interethnic marriage rates. Based on the husband's ethnicity, the highest rates of interethnic marriages are reported among Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians, and the lowest among Kazakhs, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Kyrgyz. Labour migration to Russia has contributed to interethnic marriages among nationals of the new independent states of the former USSR, while a relative decrease in mixed-ethnicity families observed between the 2002 and 2010 censuses can be explained by an inflow of mono-ethnic immigrant families from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, according to Soroko.

Soroko also notes an important gender aspect of interethnic marriages: in all ethnic groups he has studied, women are less likely than men to marry outside their nationality.

Soroko's study 'Ethnically mixed married couples based on data from the 2002 and 2010 national censuses' consists of two parts, one focusing on some of the new independent nations that used to populate Soviet republics and the other examining certain ethnicities currently inhabiting the Russian Federation. The former is based on calculations covering 16 ethnicities, including 14 principal nations of the corresponding Soviet republics, as well as Jews and Germans. The second part of the study analyses data on 11 ethnic groups inhabiting respective national republics of the Russian Federation. A review of individual micro data from the censuses enabled Soroko to examine the gender aspect of interethnic marriages.

Soroko used the data to assess the proximity between different ethnic groups and thus the relative importance of cultural barriers separating them.

Labour Migration Affects the Rates of Mixed Marriages

Soroko studied the rates of ethnically mixed marriages separately for men (Table 1) and women (Table 2) from ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union.

Based on the husband's ethnicity, the highest proportion of mixed couples is observed among Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians. In the Baltic states, interethnic marriages exceed 90%, reaching 96.7% for Latvians, 94.4% for Lithuanians and 93.7% for Estonians.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, nations with the lowest rates of interethnic marriages include Kazakhs (22.3%), followed by Armenians (30.4%) and Azerbaijanis (37.4%).

Interestingly, in Central Asia, the rates of interethnic marriage vary widely across nations, from 77.7% for Uzbeks to 41.5% for Kyrgyz.

According to Soroko, the above data from the 2002 census reflect the cumulative statistics of interethnic marriage from the previous period as well as interethnic differences in mortality and, especially migration.

Table 1. Ethnically homogeneous and mixed marriages by the husband's ethnicity, Russia, 2002; number of ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union currently living primarily outside the Russian Federation

Husband's ethnicity

Number of family units

Ethnicities of husband and wife are the same

Ethnicities of husband and wife differ

Proportion of ethnically mixed couples, %

Kazakh

112,604

87,535

25,069

22.3

Armenian

206,569

143,838

62,731

30.4

Azerbaijani

124,493

77,924

46,569

37.4

Kyrgyz

4,689

2,744

1,945

41.5

Turkmen

6,357

2,738

3,619

56.9

Georgian

38,141

12,436

25,705

67.4

Tajik

17,210

5,116

12,094

70.3

Jew

28,493

7,140

21,353

74.9

Uzbek

21,983

4,903

17,080

77.7

Ukrainian

535,861

107,126

428,735

80.0

Moldovan

33,790

6,001

27,789

82.2

Belarusian

141,936

20,297

121,639

85.7

German

102,552

11,523

91,029

88.8

Estonian

4,115

258

3,857

93.7

Lithuanian

8,279

467

7,812

94.4

Latvian

4,413

145

4,268

96.7

Source: Soroko's calculations based on Rosstat data (using SuperWeb tools)

Changes in the rates of interethnic unions observed between the censuses are shown in Figure 1. Over the eight years, the greatest changes were reported among Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks—nations with the highest rates of labour migration to Russia. The decrease in interethnic marriage in these nations between the censuses is probably due to an increasing number of couples, rather than individuals, coming to work in Russia.

Women Less Likely to Enter Interethnic Marriages

The likelihood of marrying outside one's ethnic group tends to be lower for women in the studied groups—e.g., Azerbaijani men are twice as likely as Azerbaijani women to marry other ethnicities.

According to Soroko, gender differences are lower and usually do not exceed 10 percentage points (p.p.) in groups that are generally more likely to form ethnically mixed families, such as Ukrainians, Moldovans, Germans, Belarusians and Balts.

The greatest gender differences in terms of marrying members of other ethnicities are characteristic of ethnic groups inhabiting the Caucasus (Azerbaijanis, Armenians and Georgians) and Central Asia (except Kazakhs).

Table 2. Ethnically homogeneous and mixed marriages by the wife's ethnicity, Russia, 2002; ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union currently living primarily outside the Russian Federation.

Wife's ethnicity

Number of family units

Ethnicities of husband and wife are the same

Ethnicities of husband and wife differ

Proportion of ethnically mixed family units,%

Azerbaijani

86,647

77,924

8,723

10.1

Armenian

165,067

143,838

21,229

12.9

Kazakh

108,068

87,535

20,533

19.0

Kyrgyz

3,722

2,744

978

26.3

Tajik

7,594

5,116

2,478

32.6

Turkmen

4,483

2,738

1,745

38.9

Georgian

20,613

12,436

8,177

39.7

Jew

17029

7,140

9,889

58.1

Uzbek

12,361

4,903

7,458

60.3

Moldovan

24,870

6,001

18,869

75.9

Ukrainian

469,189

107,126

362,063

77.2

Belarusian

128,437

20,297

108,140

84.2

German

91,128

11,523

79,605

87.4

Lithuanian

6,333

467

5,866

92.6

Estonian

3,656

258

3,398

92.9

Latvian

3,739

145

3,594

96.1

Source: Soroko's calculations based on Rosstat data

Changes in the rates of mixed marriages for women between the censuses are shown in Figure 2. While the overall proportion of interethnic marriages across the 16 ethnic groups decreased by 17 p.p. between 2002 and 2010, the situation was different for certain ethnicities. "Almost symmetrically, the proportion of interethnic marriages increased in eight ethnic groups and decreased in the other eight, with the greatest declines of more than 7 p.p. observed among Uzbeks, Tajiks, Moldovans and Azerbaijanis," Soroko notes.

These changes can be illustrated by the case of Uzbeks—the proportion of their interethnic marriages dropped by 24 p.p. due to an increase in labour migration involving Uzbek couples rather than individuals.

In contrast, an increase in interethnic marriages by 5 p.p. or more was observed in ethnic groups less involved in labour migration, such as Germans, Estonians and Lithuanians.

Fewer Interethnic Marriages in National Republics

The researcher also examined interethnic unions in ethnic groups living in all of Russia, as well as in its constituent national republics vs. the rest of the country.

Not surprisingly, compared to the national average, interethnic marriages are twice less common—just 14%—in ethnically homogeneous national republics.

This finding is particularly true for Chechnya where just one in 91 men is married to a non-Chechen woman, followed by three other ethnic groups—Ingush, Kalmyks and Yakuts—where interethnic families stand below 10%. On the other end, more than one third of Komi living in the Komi Republic are married out of their ethnic group.

Another factor affecting the share of interethnic marriages is the settlement pattern of various ethnicities across Russia. Of all national republics, Tatarstan has the lowest proportion of families of the relevant ethnicity, including interethnic couples, since ethnic Tatars tend to settle widely across the country. In contrast, ethnic Yakuts tend to settle mainly in their national Republic of Sakha.

Even more interesting are the rates of interethnic families in the rest of Russia, i.e., outside the national republics. These findings are indicative of what cultural barriers, if any, exist between different ethnic groups (Table 3).

Notably, the proportion of mixed marriages in the selected ethnic groups is less than 50% on average in all of Russia, but significantly higher outside the national republics —exceeding 50% for Kalmyks, Udmurts, Mordovians, Yakuts and Komi.

Table 3. Ethnically homogeneous and mixed family units by the husband's ethnicity; selected ethnic groups living outside the corresponding national republics in Russia, 2002.

Husband's ethnicity

Number of family units

Proportion of family units outside the national republic relative to all family units in Russia, %

Ethnicities of husband and wife are the same

Ethnicities of husband and wife differ

Proportion of ethnically mixed family units, %

Chechen

46,006

23.57

38,967

7,039

15.3

Ingush

7,127

14.20

5,085

2,042

28.7

Mari

48,076

49.65

30,133

17,943

37.3

Tatar

560,703

64.42

327,127

233,576

41.7

Bashkir

73,316

28.63

38,178

35,138

47.9

Chuvash

129,619

48.93

64,852

64,767

50.0

Kalmyk

2,170

8.92

1,072

1,098

50.6

Udmurt

29,714

28.20

12,198

17,516

58.9

Mordovian

101,021

68.18

33,052

67,969

67.3

Yakut (Sakha)

1,030

1.69

250

780

75.7

Komi

5,026

12.50

974

4,052

80.6

Source: Soroko's calculations based on Rosstat data

In the period between the censuses, the overall proportion of interethnic families in the sample stood at 45% in both 2002 and 2010, with some minor changes in certain ethnicities. For Ingush, the share of mixed marriages with other ethnicities dropped by 7 p.p., and an even smaller decrease was observed for Kalmyks, Yakuts, Udmurts, Komi and Chuvash. There was also a small increase, within 2.5 p.p., in the proportion of ethnically mixed unions in five other ethnic groups, including Chechens, where the increase was the highest, Mari, Tatars, Bashkirs, and Mordovians.

Gender Asymmetry in Interethnic Marriages

As to the likelihood for women from the studied ethnic groups to marry outside their ethnicity, the share of such unions stands below 10% for Chechen, Ingush and Kalmyk women and does not exceed 54% for women of any other ethnicity in the sample, with the median of 29.6% for all groups taken together. In general, women and men are more likely to enter interethnic marriages when they live outside their respective national republic (the difference exceeds 30 p.p.)

However, a significant gender asymmetry is observed across the ethnic groups; e.g., the proportion of interethnic unions for Mari women is 9 p.p. higher and for Yakut women it is 6 p.p. higher than for men of the same ethnicities, while for Ingush women it is 14 p.p. lower than for Ingush men.

In the period between the censuses, most of the studied ethnic groups showed a slight decline in the proportion of ethnically mixed unions based on the wife's ethnicity, according to Soroko.

Russian and Ukrainians Have Closer Ties

The researcher measured the different groups' tendency to form interethnic marriages by using both censuses' micro data to build a matrix (Table 4) containing 15,080,000 ethnically homogeneous (diagonal) and 2,060,000 ethnically mixed (off-diagonal) couples—the latter stand at 12% of all couples included in the matrix.

Table 4. Matrix of Ethnic Combinations in Married Couples, Russia, 2010, number of couples (fragment).

Husband's ethnicity

Wife's ethnicity

Russian

Tatar

Ukrainian

Bashkir

Chechen

Armenian

Mordovian

Russian

12,255,162

158,277

172,145

27,963

725

14,879

39,267

Tatar

170,031

521,326

4,402

40,381

109

294

1,646

Ukrainian

212,218

5,408

58,808

1,205

25

548

1,154

Bashkir

26,484

34,679

839

156,002

7

35

198

Chechen

4,443

245

164

45

210,093

42

14

Armenian

52,546

1,042

1,557

201

22

148,271

147

Mordovian

46,975

2,026

1,111

286

11

68

55,521

Source: Soroko's calculations

This matrix makes it ​possible to calculate the rates of interethnic preferences  (where i,j is the combination of ethnic groups in the couple). Inversely related to ethnic preferences are interethnic distances, which are calculated using the following equation: .

The resulting distribution of interethnic distances is presented in Table 5, where the value of one means no ethnic preference and values below one mean increased preferences concerning the spouse’s ethnicity in an interethnic union, while values above one suggest significant barriers to marriage between the ethnicities in question. One of the findings is that Ukrainians (0.66) are the closest ethnicity to Russians compared to all other studied ethnic groups.

Table 5. Assessment of interethnic distances between ethnic Russians and 10 other ethnicities based on the prevalence of mixed-ethnicity families, Russia, 2010

Ethnicity

Distance

Ukrainian

0.66

Mordovian

0.68

Udmurt

0.71

Armenian

0.74

Chuvash

0.75

Tatar

0.84

Kazakh

0.97

Azerbaijani

1.03

Bashkir

1.55

Chechen

2.03

Source: Soroko's calculations

To conclude, a study of interethnic marriages can give important insights into existing cultural, religious and other barriers between ethnic groups.

 

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, June 05, 2015