Volume 42 - Article 4 | Pages 99–132

Assimilation and ethnic marriage-squeeze in early 20th century America: A gender perspective

By Inbar Weiss, Guy Stecklov

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Date received:14 Jun 2019
Date published:14 Jan 2020
Word count:7550
Keywords:assimilation, gender, intermarriage, sex composition


Background: During the 19th and early 20th centuries, large waves of international immigrants, often heterogeneous in terms of age and sex structure, arrived in the United States. Within a relatively short time, many of these immigrants were assimilated. While prior studies have identified an impact of the marriage squeeze on intermarriage, the role of gender is less known.

Methods: We use data from the 1930 census to examine the role played by variation in the sex ratios of the six largest immigrant groups at the beginning of the 20th century on marital outcomes by sex.

Results: Our analyses show that the probability of marrying outside one’s ethnic group in this period is strongly tied to local ethnic sex ratios. Marital outcomes are affected for both sexes, but sex ratios are found to be more influential on males marrying out of their ethnic group. While a surplus of one’s own sex increases the probability of exogamy for males, it is likely to increase the probability of being single for females.

Contribution: Our findings highlight the importance of ethnic sex ratios in local marriage markets at a critical juncture of American immigration and its consequences. We focus on an understudied aspect of this process: gender differences in the association between sex ratios and marital assimilation. We show that marital decisions differed by sex and that the high levels of intermarriage in this period are more likely to be explained by unbalanced sex ratios for males than for females.

Author's Affiliation

Inbar Weiss - University of Texas at Austin, United States of America [Email]
Guy Stecklov - University of British Columbia, Canada [Email]

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