Marriage, fertility, and the cultural integration of immigrants in italy

Marriage, fertility, and the cultural integration of immigrants in Italy

As migration to Western countries has steadily increased, conversations addressing the problem have stalled somewhere within vaguely well-meaning integration objectives and restrictive closed-borders policies. This column moves the conversation forward by examining specific migrant communities in Italy. Using the language spoken in the home as a proxy for cultural-ethnic transmission, it finds that higher rates of marriage between immigrants and the native population encourage an increased acceptance of minority cultures, which allows immigrants to raised maintain their distinctive cultural traits.


Migration to Western countries has steadily increased in the last few decades, representing just about the most contentious political and socioeconomic phenomena these countries face. The nature of migratory inflows in addition has been transformed, giving rise to the perception that current immigrants are culturally more distant than those of past eras. Anti-immigrant sentiments appear widespread, and voters’ attitudes reveal substantial support for restrictive immigration policies.

These tensions seem motivated in large part by the perception that immigration imposes cultural externalities on the native population and that immigrants integrate slowly if. Actually, sizeable adverse labour market and welfare effects are definately not well-documented (Bisin and Zanella 2017). As cultural boundaries are increasingly salient, the successful integration of minorities represents an essential issue for future years of Western societies (Harder et al. 2018, Abramitzky et al. 2019).

In recent work (Bisin and Tura 2019), we study the cultural integration of immigrant minorities. We interpret cultural integration as an equilibrium phenomenon – the consequence of a demand for integration for immigrants and a supply, by means of cultural acceptance, for native populations. We focus specifically on the role of the family along the way of cultural integration of new generations. The family includes a pivotal function in this technique as the first and perhaps the most important place where values, attitudes, and beliefs are transmitted from parents to children.

This approach we can uncover the key mechanisms that may donate to slowing immigrants’ integration, to judge the dynamics of cultural integration for future generations, also to measure the integration response to counterfactual immigration policies.

More specifically, we estimate a structural style of marital matching along cultural lines and intra-household decisions, exploring at length the roles of fertility and cultural socialisation in the integration process. Parents value socialising their children and so are endowed with technologies to transmit their own cultural-ethnic traits to children (Bisin and Verdier 2000, 2001). Importantly, socialisation incentives and technologies vary between homogamous and heterogamous marriages. Moreover, socialisation behaviour depends upon the distribution of the populace across ethnic groups at the neighborhood level. As a result, the model implies a systematic dependence of fertility, socialisation, and divorce patterns across both household ethnic characteristics and geographical regions.

We estimate the parameters of the model, exploiting variability across marital matches and regions, and we use restricted administrative Italian data on the universe of marriages, births, and separations over 2 decades (1995-2012). We measure cultural-ethnic transmission with language socialisation, proxied by the (self-reported) language spoken aware of the family.

The primary parameters of interest in the model will be the cultural intolerance parameters – that’s, the (psychological) value a parent obtains from socialising a kid to his/her own ethnic identity, in accordance with having a kid with a distinctly other cultural-ethnic identity. Cultural intolerances represent a way of measuring the effectiveness of the preferences for socialisation of a particular ethnic group and therefore, a measure of the effectiveness of its resistance to cultural integration.

Figure 1 graphs the estimated cultural intolerance of minorities with regards to the native population (Panel A). Strong preferences towards socialisation of children appear common across cultural-ethnic groups, but particularly so for parents from North Africa or the center East, whose estimated intolerance is approximately seven times as high as the main one of the EU15, accompanied by sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia migrants’ minorities. As reported in Panel B, we also estimate the best cultural intolerance of the Italian majority towards immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the center East (3 x as high as that towards immigrants from the EU15).

Figure 1 Cultural intolerance parameters

a) Migrants towards natives

(b) Natives towards migrants

Notes: This figure reports parameter estimates for the cultural intolerance of migrants versus natives (Panel A) and natives versus migrants (Panel B) for all cultural-ethnic minorities from Europe-EU15, Other Europe, North Africa/Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Latin America.

The substantial amount of heterogeneity in cultural intolerances we estimate across cultural-ethnic groups imply potentially significantly different patterns of integration across minorities. In this respect, we investigate the long-run dynamics of cultural integration of minorities, simulating our style of marital matching and intra-household choices over successive generations. Results need to be interpreted in light of the strong assumption that parameters are invariant as time passes. It is also vital that you note that the idea of integration we should adopt, given our data, identifies the practice of speaking Italian in the home (i.e. we say a minority is ‘integrated’ when their descendants speak Italian in the home).

Figure 2 Long-run dynamics of cultural traits

Notes: This figure shows the long-run dynamics of the distribution of cultural traits in the populace for minority groups over successive generations. The share of every cultural-ethnic group over the full total population is indexed to at least one 1 in t=0.

Despite cultural intolerance estimates that highlight strong preferences among immigrants for maintaining their cultural identity, over time, all cultural-ethnic minorities are simulated to converge to the Italian majority along the language dimension, as depicted in Figure 2. Indeed, 75% of immigrants integrate in to the native culture over the time of a generation – basically, 75% of the second-generation immigrants are simulated to speak Italian aware of their children. However, the pace of convergence is heterogeneous across cultural-ethnic groups. We find that the EU15 and ‘Other Europe’ minorities converge almost completely to the native culture within a generation (like the North Africa/Middle-East minority), while a significantly slower convergence rate is simulated for the Latin America minority. Their integration process will not start prior to the second generation, and after four generations, only 70% of immigrants from Latin America are culturally integrated. A slower convergence rate also characterises the East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa minorities.

Intolerance parameters aren’t the only determinants of the dynamics of integration of different cultural-ethnic groups. Indeed, higher fertility and homogamy rates end up being fundamental socialisation mechanisms that help out with slowing the cultural integration of some immigrant minorities. A solid estimated selection into homogamous marriages for sub-Saharan Africa migrants, for example, allows them to sustain their cultural heterogeneity by accessing superior direct socialisation technologies. However, estimated fertility rates are particularly high for East Asia minorities, a simple factor behind their integration patterns. Finally, the relative success of the Latin America migrants in securing their cultural distinctiveness as time passes arrives, in large part, with their unique capability to socialise children in heterogamous marriages with the native-born population.

Figure 3 Long-run dynamics of cultural traits with Italians fully tolerant

Notes: This figure shows the long-run dynamics of the distribution of cultural traits in the populace for minority groups over successive generations assuming complete tolerance of the Italian majority towards minorities. The share of every cultural-ethnic group over the full total population is indexed to at least one 1 in t=0.

The relative speed of the cultural integration of immigrants can be relevant given the cultural intolerance of Italians and the effectiveness of their own cultural transmission preferences. This effect is somewhat surprising in its sign. In principle, a native population that’s more accepting of the cultural traits and beliefs of immigrants might make their cultural integration easier and faster; for example, by fostering heterogamous marriages. However the opposite is true: whenever we simulate our model by counterfactually assuming an increased willingness of almost all to welcome cultural dissimilarities, we obtain, typically, a decrease in the dynamics of integration of minorities towards Italian culture on the order of 15% over the time of a generation. Email address details are reported in Figure 3. The power of minorities to keep their cultural identity in this counterfactual scenario is because of three mechanisms:

  1. a large upsurge in demand for intermarriages with the native population and a parallel lower demand for homogamous marriages previously motivated by a parental socialisation premium;
  2. a sizable upsurge in fertility rates in intermarriages with the native population, as the socialisation quality of children is higher;
  3. higher socialisation rates for marriages with native-born Italians as a result of higher acceptance of cultural differences among the native-born in such cases.

Finally, we investigate the integration response to potential open-border immigration policies by simulating an exogenous rise in migration inflows. Specifically, we double the quantity of second-generation minorities, overweighting minorities from North Africa, the center East, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia. As is seen from Figure 4, the consequences are varied, with some minorities accentuating their successful transmission of cultural values dramatically. While North Africa/Middle East immigrants reduce integration by only 4 percentage points by the 3rd generation, the response of East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa minorities ranges from a 20-point to a 60-point decrease in integration, significantly slowing the procedure of cultural integration.

Figure 4 Long-run dynamics with compositional upsurge in migration inflows

Notes: This figure shows the long-run dynamics of the distribution of cultural traits in the populace for minority groups over successive generations. The solid line represents the dynamics at the baseline, as the dashed line represents the dynamics after raising the share of second-generation North Africa/Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia minorities. The share of every cultural-ethnic group over the full total population is indexed to at least one 1 in t=0.

These findings have implications for the look of immigration policies with the capacity of moving the conversation beyond well-meaning, across-the-board integration policies on the main one hand and restrictive, closed-borders policies on the other. In this respect, our findings – that higher socialisation rates in marriages between immigrants and the native population encourages an increased acceptance of minority cultures for the native population, allowing immigrants to raised maintain their cultural traits – deserve attention.


Abramitzky, R, L Boustan and K Eriksson (2019), “Do Immigrants Assimilate More Slowly Today Than previously?”, American Economic Review: Insights (forthcoming).

Bisin, A and G Tura (2019), “Marriage, Fertility, and Cultural Integration in Italy”, NBER Working Paper 26303.

Bisin, A and T Verdier (2000), “Beyond The Melting Pot: Cultural Transmission, Marriage, and The Evolution of Ethnic and Religious Traits”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(3): 955-988.

Bisin, A and T Verdier (2001), “The Economics of Cultural Transmission and the Dynamics of Preferences”, Journal of Economic Theory 97(2): 298-319.

Bisin, A and G Zanella (2017), “Time-consistent Immigration Policy under Economic and Cultural Externalities”, Economic Policy 32(91): 415-446.

Harder, N, L Figueroa, R M Gillum, D Hangartner, D D Laitin, and J Hainmueller (2018), “Multidimensional Way of measuring Immigrant Integration”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(45): 11483-11488.

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