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A spouse brought from your country of origin harms your career

Immigrant women who bring a spouse from their country of origin have poorer career prospects, according to a new doctoral thesis.

A family immigration marriage harms your career

First generation immigrant women who bring a husband from their country of origin to Norway have a noticeably lower chance of working ten years later. The probability of working is reduced by about 40 percent, says sociologist Ferdinand Mohn, who recently completed his PhD at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, the University of Oslo.

Bringing a spouse to Norway from one’s country of origin is particularly common among immigrants from Pakistan and Turkey, but also among a number of other nationalities. Mohn has compared those who enter into a family immigration marriage with those who marry someone from their country of origin but who are already residing in Norway. The figures include all immigrants and children of immigrants from non-Western countries, a total of nearly 280,000 people. Figures are taken from income registers between 1993 to 2010.

Large gender difference

The gender difference is big. For men the practice has little impact on their careers. For women, however, it can make a big difference. The difference can be seen both in the women's employment and income.

- On average, immigrants who marry someone from their own country experience a stagnation in their income after marriage.  Among women, income also tends to decrease. And it falls by far the most, about 10 percent more, for women who bring in their spouse, says Mohn.

This effect on income is equal for first-generation immigrant women and for women born in Norway with two immigrant parents. It is clear, however, that first generation immigrant women are most susceptible to reduced participation in the workforce if they bring in a spouse.

Ferdinand Andreas Mohn. Photo:  National Institute for the Working Environment

Work as much as others before marriage

The figures do not say anything about the reasons for this phenomenon, but perhaps the explanation lies in what other research has shown about differing views on gender, work and family life in different cultures, and that the newly arrived husband simply hampers the woman’s career, according to Mohn.

There is little to suggest that there are differences between women's participation in the workforce before marriage.

- Since I use data from a long period I can follow people over time. I see that the women work and earn about as much before marriage. In fact, those bringing a spouse into Norway work a little more in the year before their marriage, perhaps because of the requirement to be active in the workforce in order to qualify for family immigration at The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), he says.

Study less and have more children

Part of the backdrop for the study is the hypothesis that family immigration marriages can be positive for the careers of second-generation immigrant women. Some studies have suggested that these women are in a strong negotiating position, because the husband is a new arrival in the country, does not have a network and does not know the language. Meanwhile, the wife’s in-laws are far away.

The figures show, however, that those who bring in husbands from abroad tend to marry young, and they study little afterwards. Additionally, they have more children. Having children means that employment and income drops, and according to the study it drops more for each child for those with a family immigration marriage than for those who marry someone from the same country already living in Norway.

- I cannot reject the hypothesis that these women are different to begin with, and that they would work less and have more children anyway. But they differed little in the period before marriage from the rest of the population. One must also remember that they are being compared with women who choose men from the same background. The hypothesis that there is an advantage for a woman’s career in entering a family immigration marriage seems to have very little credibility in light of my findings, says Mohn.


By Silje Pileberg
Published Aug. 30, 2016 10:16 AM - Last modified Oct. 6, 2021 10:18 AM