Volume 36 - Article 43 | Pages 1299–1336

The impact of citizenship on intermarriage: Quasi-experimental evidence from two European Union Eastern enlargements

By Davide Azzolini, Raffaele Guetto

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Date received:28 Oct 2016
Date published:25 Apr 2017
Word count:7874
Keywords:assimilation, citizenship, immigration, intermarriage, Italy, legal status, quasi-experiment


Background: According to assimilation theory, the more immigrants are integrated within host countries the more likely they are to intermarry. However, status exchange theory argues instead that when integration is low, immigrants may use intermarriage as a means of improving their integration prospects in host countries, in which case an increase in levels of integration would reduce immigrants’ propensity to intermarry.

Objective: To test these two hypotheses, this paper assesses the causal effect of a positive shift in immigrants’ level of integration, namely the acquisition of citizenship, on intermarriage in Italy. Over the past 20 years Italy has experienced an unprecedented growth in intermarriage involving primarily Eastern European women.

Methods: We study two EU Eastern enlargements, following which citizens of the new EU member countries became EU citizens and thus experienced a marked improvement in their legal status. We apply the synthetic control method to data on marriages between native men and foreign women.

Results: We find that the acquisition of citizenship has a significant negative impact on immigrant women’s propensity to marry native men. That impact is much greater for immigrants coming from less affluent countries.

Conclusions: Our results support the status exchange hypothesis. This can be explained by the poor socioeconomic integration and precarious legal status of immigrants in Italy.

Contribution: The growth of intermarriage per se cannot be seen as an indicator of greater immigrant integration. The negative impact of citizenship acquisition on immigrants’ propensity to intermarry also calls for a rethinking of the role of institutions such as marriage and citizenship in the process of immigrant integration.

Author's Affiliation

Davide Azzolini - Istituto per la Ricerca Valutativa sulle Politiche Pubbliche (IRVAPP), Italy [Email]
Raffaele Guetto - Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy [Email]

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