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Explaining inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay

    (Queen Mary, University of London)

  • Elliott Green

    (London School of Economics)


Inter-cultural marriages have long been of great interest to social scientists who wish to examine how ethnic, religious, racial and other identities form and change over time. However, the vast majority of this research has been concentrated in developed countries. As such we undertake the first major examination into the causes and correlates of inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriage in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. We use Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) couples data in a series of multi-level logit models from up to 36 countries to document a number of findings. First, we show that inter-ethnic marriage rates are high, at 22.3% on average, and rising across Africa over the past 30 years, with rates approaching 50% for recent marriages in Gabon and Zambia and rising rates over time for all countries in our dataset. In contrast, however, we show that inter-religious marriage rates are much lower, at only 5%, and stagnant, with no country average higher than 15% and declining over time in a number of countries. Second, as expected from the literature on inter-cultural marriages in other contexts, we show that modernization variables such as urbanization, literacy/education, wealth and declines in polygamy and agricultural employment are significantly correlated with rising levels of inter-ethnic marriage; in contrast, the relationship between modernization and inter-religious marriage is much more ambiguous. Third, we show that inter-ethnic marriage is significantly correlated with higher age at marriage, being previously married and migration before marriage. Finally, we find no evidence that inter-married couples have fewer children, in contrast to findings elsewhere.

Suggested Citation

  • Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay & Elliott Green, 2018. "Explaining inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa," Working Papers 90, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgs:wpaper:90

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Matthijs Kalmijn & Frank Tubergen, 2010. "A comparative perspective on intermarriage: Explaining differences among national-origin groups in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 47(2), pages 459-479, May.
    2. Delia Furtado, 2012. "Human Capital And Interethnic Marriage Decisions," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 50(1), pages 82-93, January.
    3. Barry Chiswick & Christina Houseworth, 2011. "Ethnic intermarriage among immigrants: human capital and assortative mating," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 149-180, June.
    4. Delia Furtado & Nikolaos Theodoropoulos, 2011. "Interethnic marriage: a choice between ethnic and educational similarities," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(4), pages 1257-1279, October.
    5. Sanaa T. Alharahsheh & Mohamad M. Mohieddin & Feras K. Almeer, 2015. "Marrying Out: Trends and Patterns of Mixed Marriage amongst Qataris," International Journal of Social Science Studies, Redfame publishing, vol. 3(6), pages 211-225, November.
    6. Christiaan Monden & Jeroen Smits, 2005. "Ethnic intermarriage in times of social change: The case of latvia," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 42(2), pages 323-345, May.
    7. Nadja Milewski & Hill Kulu, 2014. "Mixed Marriages in Germany: A High Risk of Divorce for Immigrant-Native Couples," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 30(1), pages 89-113, February.
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    More about this item


    Ethnicity; Religion; Marriage; Sub-Saharan Africa; DHS data; Modernization;

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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