Ethnic Groups and Marital Choices: Ethnic History and Marital Assimilation in Canada, 1871 and 1971


189 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0380-0
DDC 306.84'5'0971





Reviewed by James S. Frideres

James S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie Builders.


The central goal of this short volume is to provide an understanding of
ethno-religious intermarriages that took place in 1871 and 1971. Seven
chapters plus a short appendix make up the book. After a brief
introduction, the author reviews the literature regarding patterns and
determinants of intermarriage. Chapter 3 provides a detailed historical
(until 1971) demographic profile of the 10 ethno-religious groups under
analysis—English, Irish, Scottish, French, German, Italian, Dutch,
Polish, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, and Other Origin groups. Selected
characteristics (including size, nativity, age, and sex distributions)
are then presented for each group. The next two chapters provide
empirical evidence of variables that facilitate or limit ethnic
intermarriage in Canada. The final chapter summarizes the research
findings and discusses the implications of the results.

The data for this study are based on the 1871 and 1971 federal censuses
of Canada and the Canadian Historical Mobility Project. The 1971 census
was used because of its comparability with the 1871 data, in that the
former was the last census in which a respondent’s paternal ancestry
was reported. The author readily acknowledges the limitations of the
data set and is cognizant of the methodological issues that confound her
analysis as she reports her findings. Most of the empirical findings are
presented in simple, easy-to-understand percentage differences as well
as through the use of graphs and maps. However, additional statistical
procedures are used to evaluate the data and to clarify complex
relationships as the author seeks to provide an understanding of ethnic
intermarriage and assimilation in Canada.

The author identifies the correlates and causal factors leading to
intermarriage; then, using intermarriage as an index of assimilation,
she tries to assess the processes involved in assimilation. A detailed
analysis of 10 ethno-cultural groups provides the basis for her
conclusion that intermarriage has more than doubled since 1871. Her
research also shows that assimilation occurs at different rates in
different ethno-cultural groups. She concludes that, for the European
ethnic groups she investigated, assimilation will continue. What is not
clear is how relevant these findings are to visible ethnic groups who
have entered Canada more recently.

This book is a fine piece of scholarship; a critical review reveals few
contentious issues. Those issues one might criticize are problems of
omission, not commission. But even these are recognized by the author:
she clearly points out that using European ethno-cultural groups makes
the fit of her theoretical model with the experience of more recent
ethno-cultural groups unclear. Certainly there are major structural
differences between the traditional and more recent ethno-cultural
groups. These differences suggest that the causal factors and
intermarriage patterns identified in the present study may not be
appropriate for more recent immigrant groups. But this is a problem to
be dealt with in the future. This book is an excellent source for those
interested in Canadian ethnic relations and is recommended reading for
both academics and students.


Richard, Madeline A., “Ethnic Groups and Marital Choices: Ethnic History and Marital Assimilation in Canada, 1871 and 1971,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 4, 2023,