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Family conflict and divorce in ethnic minority families: the Danish case

Monograph Fellowships


Migrants arriving in Europe often originate from areas where survival depends on kinship, and authority flows along gendered and generational lines. In Denmark, they settle in a welfare state premised on individualism, high levels of gender equality, and low economic dependence on family. This contrast in gender regimes may induce massive changes in families. As norms regarding female conduct centrally steer how life in ethnic groups is reproduced or transformed, women's autonomy - including their ability to divorce - becomes a contested issue. This monograph investigates the dynamics of divorce in ethnic minority populations and thus elucidate the complex negotiations of gender and power triggered by migration. In a globalized world, understanding such dynamics has great relevance.


"Integration issues" - often concerned with the position of immigrant women - have long been central in public debates. A pivotal question regarding female autonomy is whether a woman is, herself, able to end an unwanted marriage or if she must remain loyal to expectations regarding a woman's role in the family. The monograph will investigate this issue applying a transnational perspective, which focuses on the fact that both sending and receiving contexts are important in the lives of ethnic minorities. Transnational social dynamics also affect intimate relationships in families. The monograph will thus use processes of divorce as a prism to shed light not only on evolving changes in gender relations, but also on broader changes related to integration processes in the host society.


Building on over a decade of research on ethnic minority marriage and divorce, the analysis draws on 200+ interviews: Biographical interviews with divorced women and men, and with children, whose parents divorced, and interviews with relevant front line workers. The material makes it possible to reconstruct individual trajectories into and out of marriage. Comparing such trajectories will show how intersecting positions in power structures at different scales - from the body to the nation state - shape individuals' scope for agency and ultimately shape lives. The interviews span many countries of origin, and include both immigrants, their off-spring, and marriage migrants arriving to live with settled partners. Many interviews were conducted in languages such as Arabic, Somali and Turkish.


This monograph will shed light on the dynamics of family and gender conflict in an increasingly multicultural society. It will use the evolving and variable status of ethnic minority women as a key case to advance our understanding of processes of integration. Furthermore, the monograph will contribute to improving the social sector's capacity to provide adequate and suitable support for ethnic minority individuals with often pressing needs. Currently, research shows that a strong reluctance to divorce in some ethnic minority families can at times be both psychologically and physically detrimental to the well-being of especially women and children. This monograph will be a step towards addressing this unfortunate situation.