Racial discrimination and gender relations: patterns of union formation of sub-Saharan African migrants living in France

Elise Marsicano, Paris XI, CESP-INSERM
Nathalie Lydié, Institut National de Prévention et d'Education pour la Santé (INPES)
Nathalie Bajos, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM)

Whereas exogamy is considered a reliable indicator of immigrant’s assimilation, we propose to study patterns of union formation taking into account racial discrimination experienced by immigrants groups. The purpose of this research is to describe and analyse patterns of union formation of Sub-Saharan African migrants living in France. We support the idea these patterns are an indicator of racial boundaries produces in the French society and revealed gender-specific processes. Analyses are based on a French survey performed in 2005 among 973 women and 901 men born in a Sub-Saharan African country, living in Paris and its surrounding, and aged 18-49. Our results show that mixing - i.e. relations with partners born in a different country – is common, especially in non-cohabiting relationships. However, a significant proportion of respondents have a partner from a different Sub-Saharan African country. This intra-African segregation of sexual networks is likely to be favoured by living conditions of these populations in France. They experience racial discrimination in accessing housing and employment, which results in residential segregation in deprived areas and professional segmentation in devalued industries. Theses processes probably produce specific patterns of union formation, beyond national origin. Important gender differences arise in non-cohabiting relationships given that it is mostly intra-African mixing among women and extra-African mixing among men. Women’s sexual networks may be less diversified, especially because of family reunification and of their poorer access to the job market. Moreover, this could be an indication of the gendered nature of sexual norms. The greater control over women’s sexuality may therefore lead to a stronger constraint on their choice of a Sub-Saharan African partner.

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Presented in Session 17: Family formation among migrants