Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Completed Projects

Project Title:

The growth of mixed-ethnic unions and their changing geographical distribution between 1991 and 2001

Project Number:



Zhiqiang Feng (University of St Andrews)
Paul Boyle (University of St Andrews)
Maarten van Ham (University of St Andrews)
Gillian Raab (University of St Andrews)

Start Date:

Approved on 22-01-2008


Previous geographical studies of ethnic minority groups have tended to focus on segregation issues, with some exploring how different groups have become more or less geographically focused through time. One relatively ignored factor that influences the geographical distribution of ethnic minority groups is the growth of mixed-ethnic unions (couples including partners from different ethnic groups).

A limited amount of research has examined mixed-ethnic unions in the UK, mainly using cross-sectional data from the 1991 Census 1% Household Samples of Anonymised Records (SAR) or from the UK Labour Force Surveys (LFS). The 1994 Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities was also used to investigate mixed-ethnic unions. Most of these studies focussed on the basic trends in the growth of mixed-ethnic unions. However, none of these previous studies have used longitudinal data to explore changes in the geographies of mixed-ethnic couples – mixed-ethnic unions remain understudied. By using longitudinal data, it will be possible to examine mixed-ethnic unions; their demographic characteristics, geographical distributions and changes over time. As an integral part of an ESRC-funded project “Neighbourhoods and the creation, stability and success of mixed-ethnic unions”, this research will focus on the investigation of growth of mixed-ethnic unions and their geographical distribution between 1991 and 2001 for the whole Britain. We will investigate the following questions:

  • whether the regional pattern (Scotland is treated as one region) across Britain in mixed-ethnic unions has changed between 1991 and 2001;
  • whether mixed-ethnic unions tend to show different demographic characteristics with regard to age, household structure, and educational attainment, compared to single ethnic unions and whether these characteristics have changed between 1991 and 2001;
  • whether mixed-ethnic unions are more likely to live in mixed-ethnic neighbourhoods.

Although developed societies are becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, relatively little research has been conducted on mixed-ethnic unions. Those studies which have been undertaken demonstrate that mixed-ethnic unions are growing in number. While this may be evidence of an increasingly multi-cultural society we know virtually nothing about the factors that influence where these unions form, how stable they are through time, whether this stability is influenced by the ethnic context in which these people live, and whether such couples seek out mixed-ethnic neighbourhoods. This project will be the first UK study to combine the ONS LS and SLS to investigate mixed-ethnic unions: their demographic characteristics, temporal and geographical change between 1991 and 2001.



Berrington, A. 1996. Marriage patterns and inter-ethnic unions. pp. 178 - 212. in David Coleman and John Salt, Ethnicity in the 1991 Census: demographic characteristics of the ethnic minority populations. HMSO.

Coleman, D. 2004. Partner choice and the growth of ethnic minority populations. Bevolking en Gezin 33: 7 - 34.

Ellis, M., Wright, R. and Parks, V., 2006, The immigrant household and spatial assimilation: partnership, nativity, and neigborhood location, Urban Geography 27 1-19.

Muttarak, R., 2004, Marital assimilation: interethnic marriage in Britain, Population and society: issues, research, policy, 12th Biennial Conference of Australian Population Association, 15-17 September 2004, Canberra, Australia.

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