Is Blood Thicker than Water? Family and Gender Values and Their Impact on the Social Distance between Muslim Migrants and Natives in Western Europe


Theoretical background and objectives

The purpose of this dissertation project is to identify barriers to the social integration of Pakistani and Turkish immigrants on the level of interethnic contacts. Interethnic friendships are one of the indicators for social integration. The strongest measure are interethnic marriages which can be, just like friendships, shaped by individual preferences, structural meeting opportunities (Reinders 2004) and third-parties that can intervene in the mating process (Kalmijn 1998). Third-parties can be the family, the church or community and the state, which try to strengthen the group cohesion through social identification and endogamous norms as well as group sanctions/social control.

I assume that integration barriers can be created on the one hand by the immigrants' culture of origin and on the other hand by the host society. Integration on the immigrants' side can be influenced by norms and values (Berry et al. 2006), especially honour-related family values. Honour-related values are widespread in many collectivistic cultures, especially in South Asia, the Middle East, but also in Mediterranean countries. These values, for example, refer to female virtue, respect for elders (Smith 2006: 234) and abstaining from alcohol, especially for women (Bradby 2006: 144). Since an 'improper' behaviour can harm the reputation of the family or the extended kin network, the family feels responsible for keeping their children protected from contradictory Western values. To protect their children from Western values that emphasise autonomy and independence (Smith 2006: 90, 234), parents try to avoid contact between the cultures and the two sexes (Shaw 2000: 163f.). From this follows that for an appropriate analysis of the determinants of social integration, the family and all its attributes need to be taken into account.

In a cultural sense Pakistanis and Turks come from collectivistic cultures in which the concept of honour plays a crucial role in everyday life. Turks bear resemblance to Pakistanis particularly regarding family characteristics. Both groups are placed relatively close to each other in Inglehart's and Norris' (2009) value scheme regarding gender relations. Hence, the first research question concentrates on the individuals and the values and attitudes they hold:

1) How do cultural values such as family and gender values shape the attitudes towards other ethnic groups and therewith interethnic contact?

Earlier research has also too little taken into account the role of the host society in relation to interethnic networks (Völker, Pinkster and Flap 2008: 345). Brüß (2005) for instance has indicated that predominantly Muslim immigrants such as Turks are rejected by host society members. Moreover, policies of host societies might erect or eradicate integration barriers. Current theories offer contradictory expectations as to the effects of host country policies. On the one hand, countries with a stronger emphasis on multiculturalism might avoid what Moise, Perrault and Senecal (1997) described: the endorsement of values of the country of origin as reaction on exclusionist policies and hostile attitudes of the host society towards migrants. On the other hand, countries which follow multiculturalism might contribute to a cultural and social distance by emphasising differences. For example, the maintenance of values and marriage practices from the home country may be related to differences in immigration countries' legislation regarding family reunification. Liberal immigration laws might cause higher rates of import marriages in which the culture of the home country is retained (see also the results of project 4.1). Huschek, Liefbroer and de Valk (2009) argue that host countries with official multi-cultural policies produce higher degrees of cultural maintenance regarding marriage behaviour. Consequently, the next research question reads as follows:

2) Are there differences in the degree of social integration of migrants which arise due to differences in immigration policies? Do immigration policies, which emphasise the maintenance of the immigrants' culture, have an impact on the emergence of strong ethnic networks and increase therewith the social and cultural distance between migrants and the host society?

To investigate the impact of policies, two different European countries with distinct integration approaches – the UK (with a stronger emphasis on multiculturalism) and Germany (with more pronounced assimilation tendencies) – have been chosen.

In addition to host country policies, I want to investigate the effects of group size. Existing research (e.g. van Tubergen 2007, Ersanilli and Koopmans 2009) indicates that larger ethnic communities facilitate the retention of ethnic cultures and religious practices. This leads me to expect more interethnic contacts among the groups which are less represented, in Germany among Pakistani and in the UK more such contacts among Turks.

3) In which ways does the size of the ethnic group intervene in the integration process by enabling strong ethnic networks and the maintenance of social and cultural distance to the host society?

Research design, data and methodology

For the analysis of the impact of the family and community on the socio-cultural integration mainly survey data of the EURISLAM project and World Value Survey will be used. The World Value data are used with the aim to compare the value distance of migrants to the home and receiving country. Additionally, I will draw on focus groups to get a better insight into the interaction between family and community or "third party" intervention as Kalmijn (1998) calls it. Research for example by Becher (2008: 31) has shown that views of religious leaders are central in Muslim families' life. To investigate the most drastic consequences of the mentioned values and the extent of third party intervention in receiving societies, namely honour killings, I will furthermore analyse articles in print media concerning the actors, quantity, changes over time and the discussion it caused.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Carol, Sarah/Ersanilli, Evelyn/Wagner, Mareike: Spousal Choice among the children of Turkish and Moroccan Immigrants in Six European Countries: Transnational Spouse or Co-ethnic Migrant? In: International Migration Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 387-414, online: (First published online: February 18, 2014)

Carol, Sarah (2013): Is Blood Thicker than Water? The Role of Family and Gender Values for the Social Distance between Muslim Migrants and Natives in Western Europe. Dissertation.  Berlin: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Carol, Sarah (2013): Intermarriage Attitudes among Minority and Majority Groups in Western Europe: The Role of Attachment to the Religious In-Group. In: International Migration, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 67-83, online:

Carol, Sarah (2013): Heiraten als Maß sozialer Integration. Muslimisch-nichtmuslimische Ehen sind akzeptiert, aber selten. In: WZB-Mitteilungen, No. 142, pp. 26-28, online: